In a shocking revelation, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) today notified Amnesty International that UK government agencies had spied on the organization by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications.
In an email sent today, the Tribunal informed Amnesty International its 22 June ruling had mistakenly identified one of two NGOs which it found had been subjected to unlawful surveillance by the UK government. Today’s communication makes clear that it was actually Amnesty International Ltd, and not the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) that was spied on in addition to the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.
The NGOs were among 10 organizations that launched a legal challenge against suspected unlawful mass surveillance of their work by the UK’s spy agencies.
“After 18 months of litigation and all the denials and subterfuge that entailed, we now have confirmation that we were in fact subjected to UK government mass surveillance. It’s outrageous that what has been often presented as being the domain of despotic rulers has been occurring on British soil, by the British government,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuses can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?
“The revelation that the UK government has been spying on Amnesty International highlights the gross inadequacies in the UK’s surveillance legislation. If they hadn’t stored our communications for longer than they were allowed to, we would never even have known. What’s worse, this would have been considered perfectly lawful.”
Today’s IPT email made no mention of when or why Amnesty International was spied on, or what was done with the information obtained.
This shows the urgent need for significant legal reform, including proper pre-judicial authorization and meaningful oversight of the use of surveillance powers by the UK security services, and an independent inquiry into how and why a UK intelligence agency has been spying on human rights organizations.
It also underlines Amnesty International’s call for an end to mass communications surveillance by governments.
Earlier this year Amnesty International launched #UnfollowMe, a global campaign against indiscriminate mass surveillance, to challenge governments that want to invade privacy and restrict freedoms on an industrial scale. The organization has also initiated legal challenges against the targeted mass surveillance practices of both the US and UK governments.