Amnesty International Demands Inquiry After GCHQ Spying

Further revelations about the spying activities carried out by GCHQ are promising to cause headaches for the government.

The latest twist in the ongoing saga, first revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, is the call from human rights group Amnesty International for an independent inquiry into the matter.

British Spying

“In a shocking revelation, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) today notified Amnesty International that UK government agencies had spied on the organisation by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications, despite previously having said the opposite,” Amnesty said in a statement.

It said that the Tribunal informed Amnesty that a June 22 ruling had mistakenly identified one of two NGOs which it found had been subjected to unlawful surveillance by the UK government.

“It had said that the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the South Africa-based Legal Resources Centre had been spied on, but 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,” said the group.

It was back in February when the IPT ruled that GCHQ had illegally spied on British citizens. It was the first time the IPT had ruled against an intelligence agency in its 15-year history. The IPT is charged with keeping Britain’s intelligence agencies in check.

And this June it said that that GCHQ failed to delete data intercepted from two rights groups on time, namely the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the South Africa-based Legal Resources Centre. But it now admitted that this was wrong, and emailed Amnesty to confirm that one of the groups was indeed Amnesty.

“It’s outrageous that what has been often presented as being the domain of despotic rulers has been done 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 abuse can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?” said Shetty. “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.”

Independent Inquiry

“Amnesty International is calling for an independent inquiry into how and why a UK intelligence agency has been spying on human rights organisations,” it said.

The group has long been concerned at the activities of the British intelligence services. In 2012, one of its blogging sites was compromised and defaced with a fake campaign on the conflict in Syria.

Earlier that year its international UK website was compromised for two days, serving up the nasty Gh0st RAT tool.

In an effort to beat the spooks, in November 2014 Amnesty launched Detekt software that it said could detect whether computers are infected with surveillance spyware from government agencies. But experts questioned whether a human rights group has the technical capability to maintain this detection software.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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