Surveillance tribunal reveals UK government spied on Amnesty International

Amnesty is calling for an independent inquiry into why UK has been spying on human rights organisations

“How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if … confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?”
Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty

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.

In an email sent today, the Tribunal informed Amnesty that a 22 June 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.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“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.

 “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.

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

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 organisation said.

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