Amnesty International Told That GCHQ Spied On Its Communications

from the because-of-course-it-did dept

Amnesty International has been heavily engaged in fights against mass surveillance, recognizing that many of the people it communicates with need an expectation of privacy in their communications with the group. Last year, Ed Snowden revealed that the NSA specifically spied on Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. And, while Amnesty International was unable to gain standing by the US Supreme Court, since it couldn’t prove that the NSA had spied on its communications, the story appears to be somewhat different over in the UK.

Last year a legal challenge was filed in the UK via the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) concerning Amnesty International. And now, the group has been informed that, yes, it was spied on by GCHQ in the UK.

In a shocking revelation, the UK?s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) today notified Amnesty International that UK government agencies had spied on the organization by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications.

In an email sent today, the Tribunal informed Amnesty International its 22 June ruling had mistakenly identified one of two NGOs which it found had been subjected to unlawful surveillance by the UK government. 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.

As you may recall, a little over a week ago, the IPT had ruled that the GCHQ had erred in holding onto emails too long — but had named that Egyptian organization as the one whose emails were held. However, that’s now been corrected to Amnesty International.

The actual email sent by the IPT basically says that GCHQ told them that the IPT made a mistake. What you won’t see anywhere is an apology from GCHQ.

Amnesty is rightfully incensed about the whole thing:

?How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuses can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?

?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 by internal guidelines, we would never even have known. What?s worse, this would have been considered perfectly lawful.?

Both issues raised here are significant. The only reason Amnesty now knows about this is because GCHQ held onto the emails too long. If it had done its usual purge, then the IPT likely would never have revealed that, and Amnesty’s communications would have continued to go on being compromised without anyone knowing.

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Comments on “Amnesty International Told That GCHQ Spied On Its Communications”

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24 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

This is terrifying. Targeting supposed terrorists or even spying on another Governments is one thing and it is perfectly understandable – though I think we should go past this childish “borders”, “espionage” and “them vs us” culture (will not hold my breath, we need another thousand years before humanity is ready for that).

But spying on Human Rights organizations? Really? What justification do you have for such travesty? Unfortunately we know now that the Governments are considering activism and even humanitarian help extremism, the same as terrorism. This is not a surprise at all given how fast they are sliding down the slippery slope that 9/11 created.

Still, it is terrifying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Funny how they didn’t learn from creating Al Qaeda in the 80’s to fight the Russians.

Instead they created ISIS to fight Assad.

By they I mean the CIA. They funded, equipped, armed and even had trainers sent to educate the “terrorists” on how to fight more effectively.

I can’t wait to see what new terrorist group the CIA will help create next decade.

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: Re:

” Targeting supposed terrorists or even spying on another Governments is one thing and it is perfectly understandable”

Truly, is it? Have people ever reached the conclusion that hey, maybe no spying is ever ok? Government, terrorism, none of it is ever acceptable. Mostly because none of it is going to follow the actual defined versions. Government is going to target every government employee, civilian or otherwise. Every person on the planet is considered a terrorist because they have opinions and terrorists have opinions.

So no, not any spying is understandable – and we have ourselves solely to blame.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s why I said understandable. I don’t think it is acceptable but it’s understandable given the current context. And I agree with you, and it’s fast evolving into ‘different opinions equal terrorism’ mindset. I think that what’s happening now shows how human beings are still more animals than civilized and have plenty to evolve.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m sure their excuses for spying on a human rights org will be the kind of logic only torture can bring.

If you’re not under their control, you’re out of control (to control freaks).

How they manage to justify treating anyone like this is pretty astonishing considering the absolute crap they’re doing. What threat could AI possibly be compared to the US gov’t’s complicit involvement in torture and covering it up?

The control freaks are freaking out and are out of control.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I truly cannot tell whether this is sarcasm.

But just in case it isn’t… Amnesty International doesn’t just sit on evidence of human rights violations. It investigates, it reports, and it makes evidence publicly available when it is possible to do so without putting people at greater risk. That is why (aside from the general overall violation of privacy) this spying is so disturbing and so serious: It endangers the lives of people who report human rights abuses.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Amnesty is rightfully incensed about the whole thing:
“How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuses can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?

I’m guessing David Cameron thinks discouraging people from reporting human rights abuses is a beneficial byproduct of GCHQ spying.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

I've had a thought...

… treat it gently, it’s in a strange place.

It’s not precisely on point (it’s rather tangential, in fact), but considering this issue, it occurs to me that perhaps we – either directly or via our representatives – should think again about the questions we ask of intelligence agencies.

It seems to me that we tend to ask questions like “has [persons or entities [of xyz nationality]] ever been subject to surveillance by [whatever agency] under [whatever programme]”.

This gives answers (when it doesn’t result in boilerplate, which is the normal response for GCHQ), but not always meaningful answers, or answers which might serve as a metric of the surveillance state, or answers which might provide a basis for further action.

Perhaps more appropriate questions to focus on these days might be “are there any [persons or entities] within [whatever agency]’s reach which are not subject to surveillance”, “what percentage of [the UK’s companies, etc] are under surveillance” and “are there, in practise, any analytic criteria that would not result in [persons or entities] not being subject to further monitoring”.

Very conceivably, this being the intelligence community, they might try to redefine “surveillance” to mean inserting cameras into the subject’s nostrils, or some other sleazy truth-avoidance tactic, but it’s a place to start that shouldn’t result in vast imponderables, if and when we do get a coherent answer.

lfroen (profile) says:

Ah, _that_ "Amnesty International"

Are we talking about same “Amnesty International” that find “human rights violations” literally everywhere it looks? And of cause it looks where it is convenient.

Are you fighting muslim fanatics? – that’s violation! Are you spying on their leaders? – that’s violation?

Because you know, every jihadist idiot should be (somehow) caught, have lengthy trial and than we should feed him for the rest of his pathetic life instead of just shoot him on sight. Yea, that’s reasonable.

So, that’s an answer for “why GCHQ spy on them”: because they are _ALSO_ fanatics. And as all kind of fanatics – dangerous when not kept in check.

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