Free Essay: Ethics in Regards to Conducting Espionage, Intelligence, And Counterintelligence

Published: 2022-11-14
Free Essay: Ethics in Regards to Conducting Espionage, Intelligence, And Counterintelligence
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Intelligence services Ethics
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 940 words
8 min read

Can intelligence be ethical? The question seems incongruous, as the two terms seem to be opposed in the collective imagination. Indeed, while the former refers to secrecy, covert operations, and sometimes immorality, the second refers to transparency and morality. Intelligence services are a derogation from the rule of law and transparency (Gendron, 2005). Confronting intelligence and ethics leads in fact to a particularly thorny dialectical reflection, between secrecy and transparency, between morality and necessity. Espionage can be defined as the actions taken by operation agents or officers seeking clandestinely access to important or sensitive information from citizens, institutions, other governments, and national institutions to benefit their nations, institutions, organizations, or interest groups (Omand & Phythian, 2013). Spying actions allow agents and operation officers to have undue access to sensitive knowledge, for example, the mastery of advanced technologies or decisions taken in the conduct of international relations. Espionage and spying activities are not ethical at all.

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Ethics is one and universal. There are no several ethics. What was ethical for our ancestors remains ethical to people now and will be ethical to the cyberman in the future. What exists are new ethical situations. For example, until recently there was no computer ethics because computers had not been invented. Today, ethics condemn hackers and viruses. What varies in time and space is morality but not ethics. Ethics is universal and one. For everything and everyone. It becomes immoral for a State to spy on others, unethical, too (Jones, 2010). As espionage came to stay for many centuries, counter-espionage was created, a way to trade six for half a dozen. It is said that one is defense, another aggression, although they are the same thing, that is, ethical crimes.

There are several principles and ethics that should be adhered to while conducting any spying activities. These principles are a proposal to the states, which should take them into account whenever they want to conduct espionage and are based on existing principles in current legislation such as legality, legitimacy, necessity, suitability, proportionality, authority competent judicial and due process (Goldman, 2006). To these are added other less common but equally important principles and protected by human rights legislation, such as: the principle of notifying the user (that their communications are being intercepted), transparency (publishing interceptions data, requests to third parties, procedures used, etc.), public supervision (essential for accountability and democratic state control), the integrity of communications and systems (including the non-obligation to identify themselves to use certain services), guarantees in international cooperation processes (with bilateral treaties, respect for the principle of double criminality and applying the strictest regulations in case of disparity) and, finally, guarantees against unlawful access, including criminal and civil penalties for violating privacy and protection for whistleblowers from cases of non-compliance with these principles.

That these principles are applicable to surveillance processes shows that the debate on espionage goes far beyond technological capabilities. The possibility of remotely monitoring and generating files with personal data (Internet entries and visits, telephone calls, interaction in social networks, car registrations, access to public transport with smart cards, fingerprint control in certain accesses, etc.) A globalized world forces people to rethink the physical and legal limits of privacy and the right to privacy (Jones, 2010). Today, surveillance is no longer only up and down, nor is it aimed at suspects - the surveillance flows are as vertical as they are horizontal, and preventive surveillance has been imposed on the concept traditional criminal investigation after the event.

Open intelligence is very widely practiced by the intelligence services, since the information available, well processed and analyzed, represents a deposit with high quality/cost performance. It presents no ethical or legal problem except for the usual considerations concerning intellectual property. Espionage is comparatively much more expensive and risky. It remains the prerogative of special services and theoretically complements areas of shadows that do not cover open intelligence (Radsan, 2006). Its practice involves the use of generally illegal and unethical methods. In fact, many authors consider espionage (in time of peace) as illegal, because it involves a violation of the territorial sovereignty of other States, even if they recognize that espionage is not prohibited by international law.

To conclude, spying is unethical, and immoral, too. Obtaining these data by spies harms the country's economic competitiveness, compromises national strategic objectives and affects the conduct of foreign policy. Cybernetic operations conducted by governments or foreign companies against other nations interests seek not only to access existing data in national public and private databases and systems. They also aim to prevent the proper functioning of the national communications infrastructure or even to adulterate and destroy information assets of the country, which constitutes sabotage. Through espionage actions, the adverse agent seeks to access data that is not available in open information sources. The purpose is to provide the sponsor country with advantages of a political, geopolitical, military, economic, technological or scientific nature. Unauthorized access to sensitive information by the adverse agent can occur not only physically and in person - as in the case of obtaining a copy of a confidential document - which is not only wrong and unethical but also immoral.


Gendron, A. (2005). Just war, just intelligence: An ethical framework for foreign espionage. International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, 18(3), 398-434.

Goldman, J. (Ed.). (2006). Ethics of spying: A reader for the intelligence professional (Vol. 1). Scarecrow Press.

Jones, J. M. (2010). Is Ethical Intelligence a Contradiction in Terms? Ethics of Spying, Toronto, The Scarecrow Press, inc, 21-33.

Omand, S. D., & Phythian, M. (2013). Ethics and intelligence: A debate. International journal of intelligence and counterintelligence, 26(1), 38-63.

Radsan, A. J. (2006). The Unresolved Equation of Espionage and International Law. Mich. J. Int'l L., 28, 595.

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