Human Rights Group Amnesty Spied upon by the UK Government

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in the UK confirmed that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spied illegally on Amnesty International through an email sent to the human rights organization, according to a report in Wired.

Illegal spying

The shocking revelation was made late on Wednesday when Amnesty revealed that the IPT had sent in an email correcting an earlier judgement. Originally, the judgement noted that communications taking place with two other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been retained and examined illegally. The two NGOs under the spotlight were:

  • The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and
  • The South African non-profit Legal Resources.

However, the recent email sent from the IPT revealed that it was in fact Amnesty that was spied on, instead of the Egyptian organization, along with the South African Legal organization.

“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,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International in a statement.

Amnesty also confirmed that the IPT email made no distinctions or mentions of when or why one of the world’s leading human rights organizations was being spied on. It’s also unclear as to what was done with the illegally obtained information.

The fallout

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, surveillance powers were breached due to databases containing spied-upon information being retained for longer than permitted. This includes emails and phone calls which were intercepted.

Ironically, the UK is among 40 countries taking a stand to prevent repressive and dictatorial regimes from obtaining mass surveillance tools from spying upon human rights organizations. This coalition is a part of the Wassenaar Arrangement which was originally set up as an arms control pact set up to control the spread of select dangerous weapons around the world.

“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.

How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuse can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?” added Shetty, in a stinging statement that strongly condemned the actions of the UK’s spy agency, GCHQ.

Amnesty has also demanded an independent inquiry in to the matter, wanting to know “how and why a UK Intelligence agency has been spying on human rights organizations.”

Finally, the statement concludes by saying that the entire controversy further underlines Amnesty International’s “call for an end to mass communications surveillance by governments.”