Human rights group Amnesty International received an email on July 1 from the UK’s secret spying court, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), admitting that the UK intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) illegally monitored and stored its communications.
The IPT explained last week that GCHQ has monitored a number of human rights groups such as the South African Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) as well as Amnesty International.
Although it did not give detailed information on the time period and or reason for the monitoring, Wednesday’s email clarified that GCHQ has been monitoring only Amnesty’s communications rather than those of other human right groups.
— amnestypress (@amnestypress) July 2, 2015
Amnesty released a statement on Wednesday criticising what it called inadequacies in the UK’s surveillance legislation and said GCHQ “had spied on the organization by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications, despite having said the opposite.”
“Today’s revelations underscore the urgent need for significant legal reform, including proper pre-judicial authorisation and meaningful oversight of the use of surveillance powers by the UK security services,” the statement said.
— AmnestyUK Media Team (@NewsFromAmnesty) July 1, 2015
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty expressed regret and incredulity at the news, saying “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.
“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.”
“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,” he added,
Shetty said that “if they [GCHQ] 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.”
Amnesty International together with several other human rights groups filed a complaint in April against the British government’s mass surveillance program, arguing mass surveillance laws violate human rights.
The regulation that allowed GCHQ to easily monitor people, institutions organisations such as Amnesty International was approved by the IPT as a part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which facilitates police spying on suspects.
Currently, Amnesty International has started a campaign calling for mass surveillance to be banned and the regulations which allow governments and intelligence agencies to collect bulk data on their whole populations to be scrapped.