UK Surveillance Bill: wider powers will take UK closer to becoming a surveillance state
“If even Amnesty is fair game for the government spooks, then who else is being spied on?” – Alice Wyss
Commenting on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill published by the government today, Alice Wyss, UK Researcher at Amnesty International, said:
“The entire surveillance system in the UK desperately needs dragging out of the shadows and into the light of day. An overhaul of these powers is long overdue, so we’re glad they’re being subjected to proper parliamentary and public scrutiny finally, and we'll be having a close look at the detail.
“Wider snooping powers will take the UK closer to becoming a surveillance state.
“Just a few months ago the government admitted through gritted teeth that they’d been spying on Amnesty International and another NGO. They were only caught out then because they broke their own rules and kept our communications too long, and that’s likely to have been just the tip of the iceberg.
“If even Amnesty is fair game for the government spooks, then who else is being spied on?
“Are government spies going to be routinely listening in on charities, journalists, local councils and individual protesters?
“Surveillance should be targeted, not indiscriminate, and the entire system should be placed under the scrutiny and control of independent judges, not politicians. That’s the only way to safeguard our basic liberties and restore public confidence.”
Amnesty spied on by GCHQ
On Wednesday 1 July 2015 the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) – a court which investigates complaints of unlawful contact by the UK intelligence agencies - notified Amnesty International that UK government agencies had spied on the organisation by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications. The IPT previously identified one of two NGOs which it found had been subjected to unlawful surveillance by the UK government as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), when it should have said Amnesty. The other NGO which was spied on was the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.
The IPT made no mention of when or why Amnesty International was spied on, whose communication was accessed or what was done with the information obtained.
The admission that Amnesty was being spied on was only made because UK government agencies stored the communications for longer than they were allowed to under current rules.