Besides the Standing Committee I, are there other authorities that review the Belgian intelligence services?
The Standing Committee I is the body specifically responsible for reviewing the intelligence services. However, the review by the Standing Committee I does not replace the Parliamentary supervision in any way, nor the supervision by the competent ministers: the work of the Standing Committee I is independent and complementary. Moreover, there are many administrative and judicial authorities who can exercise (direct or indirect) external supervision over (an aspect of) the work of the intelligence services:
- The Appeal Body for security clearances, certificates and advice
- The federal ombudsman
- The Council of State
- The Commission for the Protection of Privacy
- The judiciary
- The Court of Audit
- The administrative Commission responsible for monitoring specific and exceptional intelligence collection methods used by the intelligence and security services
If a security clearance or certificate is refused or withdrawn, or if negative security advice is issued, an appeal can be lodged with an independent administrative court, which thus indirectly supervises an aspect of the work of the intelligence services (see appeal body).
This body supervises any ‘federal administrative service’ and thus also the services that the Committee reviews. The federal ombudsman can start an investigation after a complaint from a citizen or on the request of the Chamber of Representatives. Unlike the Standing Committee I, it does not have a right of initiative.
State Security sometimes intervenes in an advisory capacity for the granting of licenses for the private detective and security sector. Such advice cannot be contested in the Appeal body for security clearances, certificates and advice. But as this advice forms an integral part of the administrative file that an authority uses as a basis for its refusal decision, the person concerned may consult it. If he/she finds that State Security has wrongly attributed certain facts to him/her or the negative assessment of him/her is incorrect, he/she can contest it indirectly by claiming the cancellation of the decision in the Council of State. The Council of State has another responsibility: it can quash the refusal of an intelligence service (or the Coordination Unit for Threat) to allow consulting of administrative documents. It can do this on the basis of the Open Government Act.
If a citizen has been unable to apply the Open Government Act to consult the information that an intelligence service (or the Coordination Unit for Threat Assessment) has collected on him/her, he/she can turn to the Commission for the Protection of Privacy. However, the citizen is not allowed to consult such information. The room for manoeuvre of the Commission is also limited: it can only make recommendations and inform the requestor that a check has been done. It may say nothing about the content of the files.
If a basic right is violated or if a person has suffered damage due to unlawful or careless acts of government, the person concerned can go through the ordinary courts in order to stop an ongoing illegality and to award compensation.
A completely different form of reviewing the work of government departments is done by the Court of Audit. It supervises the use of the financial resources by the intelligence services. The Court of Audit examines the legality and regularity of the expenditure, and makes sure that the principles of frugality, appropriateness and effectiveness are observed.
The administrative Commission responsible for monitoring specific and exceptional intelligence collection methods used by the intelligence and security services
In the context of specific and exceptional intelligence collection methods used by the intelligence and security services, the administrative Commission reviews the legality of the measures, including ensuring that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality have been respected. In some cases, the methods can only be used after the administrative Commission has given its assent to the head of the intelligence service's decision to use a specific or exceptional method. If the strict rules have not been followed, the administrative Commission may order a provisional ban on the use of the data collected via the method as well as the suspension of this method.