Project Background

Since 2013’s Snowden leaks, disputes over digital spying have roiled international discussions about data flows and technology exports. Years of patient diplomacy have forestalled an outright rupture. But progress toward genuine mutual understanding has been halting, at best.

Comparative study of surveillance laws and institutions, perhaps surprisingly, remains limited. What exists has often been driven by litigation—most notably, the two prominent Schrems decisions by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Spurred by Schrems I and II, experts have debated whether the European or U.S. approach to regulating government surveillance is more transparent and better at protecting privacy and liberty.

Instead of asking which side is better, Safe and Free opts for a different question: What can we learn from one another? In essays by leading experts in nearly a dozen countries, the project explores the variety of ways in which rule-of-law states seek to align national-security surveillance with their values and laws.

Safe and Free contributors include think-tankers, academics, former government officials, and journalists. Many have worked in, advised, or overseen their countries’ intelligence services or oversight bodies. Covered countries span the Five Eyes, Western Europe, Scandinavia, EU member states in post-Communist Europe, and advanced democracies in East Asia.

The goal: genuine comparative study, with the aim of generating insights to help improve our own systems and navigate political and technological currents affecting many advanced democracies.

Safe and Free is a project of the Robert Strauss Center on International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. The Strauss Center, which honors former U.S. ambassador and prominent lawyer Robert Strauss, is one of the United States’ premier academic centers on the intersection of law and global security.

This project was supported by funds from the Robert Strauss Endowment at the University of Texas at Austin and by a charitable gift from Microsoft.

Each paper in the Safe and Free series reflects the views of its author. Executive summaries were prepared by the Strauss Center for the convenience of readers. Editorial direction for the series was provided by Adam Klein, Director of the Strauss Center and Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law.