The EOS Committee was established by the Storting in 1996. The establishment was motivated by the extensive public attention and political debate concerning the secret services and their operation.
The debate also led to the appointment of the Lund Commission, which, in its 1996 report, concluded that the Norwegian Police Security Service, known as Politiets Overvåkingstjeneste (POT) at the time, had been involved in widespread illegal political surveillance, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, of individuals and organisations belonging to Norway’s political left.
The Lund Commission’s critical review of a 50-year long period from World War II onwards, as well as the establishment of the EOS Committee on recommendation by the EOS Commission in 1994, marks a turning point in history, in terms of the scope of operation for the services and public oversight of their activities.
The appointment of the Lund Commission was also, in part, motivated by a political desire, following the end of the Cold War, to establish an oversight authority for the EOS services, to make sure past infractions would not be repeated. Consequently, in 1995, the Storting passed a separate law relating to the oversight of secret services – a parliamentary anchored oversight scheme for the ” intelligence, surveillance, and security services”.
The first committee was elected by the Storting in March 1996. The Committee is one of the Storting’s external monitoring and oversight authorities, which, in addition to the EOS Committee, include the Office of the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Public Administration and the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Armed Forces. The Norwegian Human Rights Institution is also a body that was established by the Storting – in 2015.
The establishment of the EOS Committee marked a new trend, for two reasons especially. Firstly, the oversight body was anchored in the Norwegian Parliament, as opposed to the previous committee, which was appointed by Government. Secondly, the Committee’s mandate stated that the Committee was responsible for overseeing all of the secret services, including foreign intelligence activities, which had not previously been subject to external oversight.
Since its establishment, the Committee has regularly and closely overseen the secret services. For the Committee, a healthy dialogue with service administrators and inspection activities have been key elements in building the Committee’s competence and expertise and the high level of mutual trust and respect that has developed between the services and the Committee.
It is the Committee’s opinion that strict rules for and oversight of the secret services is absolutely essential, as it prevents a situation where national security concerns take precedence over other concerns in the day-to-day activities of the services, to the detriment of protection under the law, civil liberties, and democracy. Developments over the last ten years have further clarified the legal basis for the services and their operations, and their statutory authority to implement measures vis-à-vis Norwegian citizens has become increasingly more detailed. Consequently, the Committee’s mandate to oversee the services has also become more specific and detailed, and as a consequence, the Committee has been forced to strengthen its expertise in terms of the legal aspects of service activities.