Privacy, Investigative Techniques and Intelligence Gathering (Module 12, UNODC University Module series: Counter-Terrorism)

The series of Modules on Counter-Terrorism Education, developed within the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative, aim to provide a relevant and valuable resource for lecturers teaching courses on counter-terrorism in universities and academic institutions across the world. The Modules seek to enhance students’ understanding of terrorism, its implications and related issues by providing foundational knowledge on relevant international, regional and national instruments and approaches. To increase their effectiveness, the Modules aim to connect theory to practice, encourage critical thinking, and use innovative interactive teaching approaches such as experiential learning, case studies and group-based work. The Modules are multi-disciplinary and can be integrated in a series of courses ranging from law to international relations, sociology, anthropology, criminology and many other disciplines. Whilst the primary focus is on the United Nations instruments, the Modules leave room for diverse perspectives and lecturers can easily adapt them to different local and cultural contexts.


Module 12. Privacy, Investigative Techniques and Intelligence Gathering

A very important element of any State’s counter-terrorism efforts is to gather intelligence regarding those plotting and perpetrating terrorist acts against it. The overarching goal is to maintain the integrity of national security, keeping the population safe in the process. Indeed, one of the most important, fundamental human rights obligations that a State has towards those residing on its territory is to protect them, including from serious international crimes such as terrorism. Intelligence plays a vital role in preventing terrorist attacks from occurring and in assisting law enforcement officers in apprehending persons suspected of committing terrorist acts whether before or after an actual attack has occurred. Intelligence has long played a central role in counter terrorism efforts, including in identifying, locating and ‘neutralising’ terrorist non-State actors.

Although this Module discusses some rule of law concerns relating to privacy and intelligence gathering in a counter-terrorism context, such concerns should be considered holistically in terms of the immense challenges faced by States in responding effectively to increasingly asymmetrical forms of terrorist activity together with growing numbers of ‘persons of interest’ such as returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters. Issues examined in a number of other Modules that are of relevance here include the utilization of ‘coercive interrogation techniques’ amounting to torture (Module 9), violations of the right to life in extreme circumstances (Module 8) and discriminatory practices (Module 13). This Module examines some of these key tensions, the relevant legal frameworks governing privacy and intelligence gathering, together with some contemporary issues of rule of law concern, in both peacetime and armed conflict situations.

Learning outcomes

Introduce and explain the concept of intelligence gathering and some of the most prevalent forms that this takes.

Understand the primary international and regional legal frameworks governing the right to privacy, with a specific focus on intelligence gathering, in both peacetime and armed conflict situations.

Identify and compare different national policy and legislative approaches and practices,

Examine some contemporary issues relating to intelligence and evidence gathering which have rule of law implications.


The full module is avaliable at UNODC website

TopicOrganized crime, Penitentiary Institutions, Law enforcement


Themes: Organized crime, Penitentiary Institutions, Law enforcement