The British Government Spied on Amnesty International

By James O Malley on at

So this is awkward. After 18 months of the government denying that it has been spying on human rights charity Amnesty International... It turns out that it actually has.

The Register reports that yesterday the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the body which regulates internal UK surveillance, said that the government had "intercepted, accessed and stored [Amnesty's] communications for an unspecified period of time".

Given the work Amnesty does often finds it at odds with the government, this is more than a little worrying: how can it hold the powers that be to account, if those same powers always know what Amnesty's next move is? For example, one of Amnesty's current campaigns is arguing in favour of keeping the Human Rights Act, the law which – somewhat awkwardly – is supposed to prevent the state from spying of people.

Astonishingly, the only reason the news came out is because the government broke the rules. Amnesty's Salil Shetty apparently explained:

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.

She later added:

It's outrageous that what has been often presented as being the domain of despotic rulers has been occurring on British soil, by the British government.

As The Register notes, it seems unlikely that anything will be done in law to further regulate surveillance like this, given that the current government seems intent on making it easier, such as by introducing the so-called Snooper's Charter, and by banning encrypted communications (whether that is actually possible or not). [The Register]