Amnesty International who along with a host of other NGOs launched legal proceedings against mass surveillance in the UK have become a victim of what they campaign against. This week Amnesty were shocked to discover that they had in fact been subject to mass surveillance and not only that but the communications intercepted had been stored far too long.
The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that investigates complaints about public institutions in the UK ruled in June that GCHQ had indeed broken rules on the handling of data intercepted by storing it too long. Although GCHQ were collared for the handling of data it was said that the actual collection of data was lawful.
Amnesty International were under surveillance
The ruling by the IPT suggested that one of the two NGOs under surveillance was the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights with the other being Legal Resources Centre in South Africa. However, it has now come to light from the IPT themselves in a letter to Amnesty that the Egyptian organisation was not the body under surveillance in this case but was indeed Amnesty International themselves.
Amnesty International a group who focus on human rights around the world were quite obviously shocked at the revelations and explained that after 18 months of denials they now had concrete confirmation that they were, in fact, subject to spying by the British spy organisation the GCHQ.
Secretary General for Amnesty, Salil Shetty explained in a blog post on their website how their work could be affected in future as it relies on the trust of those who defend human rights and victims of abuse to be secure in the knowledge that their communications will be confidential and not end up in the hands of the UK or other governments.
UK spooks own mistakes shed light on spying
Mass surveillance has been a hot topic ever since Edward Snowden the former US intelligence contractor informed the world about the reach of the US, UK and other governments mass surveillance capabilities. Amnesty are clearly incensed with the finding that their communications had been stored but ironically the fact that their communications were unlawfully stored for longer than allowed was what brought the case to light and without this they may never have been aware.
Amnesty have been calling for an end to mass surveillance by governments and the latest details only serve to highlight the dangers when governments inadvertently spy on individuals and organisations. Amnesty have reiterated the need for legal reform of how the intelligence agencies operate and called for an independent inquiry to investigate why the government intelligence agencies have been spying on Amnesty and other human rights organisations.
The spying on of a human rights organisation comes at a time when the UK’s ruling party, the Conservatives are looking to do away with the Human Rights Act in favour of a Bill of Rights. While nothing was set in place in the recent Queen’s Speech after the Conservative party were elected into power back in May the consensus is that the Conservative party do aim to raise the issue in the near future and the Human Rights Act could be in danger of being removed.
With human rights groups the victim of mass surveillance and the threat that the Human Rights Act will be removed from UK law the liberties of British citizens seem ever more in danger as the government intrudes into every facet of ordinary citizens lives.