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Feed Techdirt: Amnesty International Told That GCHQ Spied On Its Communications (google.com)

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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