UPDATE: Since this letter was sent, it has been revealed that GCHQ intercepted and retained communications from Amnesty International, and not the Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights.
The email from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal which revealed this made no mention of when or why Amnesty International was spied on, or what was done with the information obtained. The organisation is demanding an independent inquiry into how and why a UK intelligence agency has been spying on human rights organisations.
To the Right Hon Philip Hammond MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Government of the United Kingdom
Re: Surveillance of human rights organisations
Dear Foreign Secretary
We write to you to express our deep concern at the ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on June 22, 2015, which reveals that the GCHQ carried out surveillance on two important and respected independent international human rights groups illegally.
These two organisations, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Legal Resource Centre in South Africa are well known and widely respected in the international human rights movement.
Though the Tribunal found technical violations in the surveillance process our concern lies with the act of the surveillance itself. If the role of surveillance is to protect the public from serious crime and threats to their security, what possible explanation can there be for surveillance of human rights groups – a practice if carried out by other states would attract the criticism of the UK government. Indeed in the FCO Human Rights and Democracy Annual Report of 2014 you, as Foreign Secretary, were quoted as saying “We call on governments around the world to do more to foster the role of civil society in promoting and defending human rights” – a role which the report warns is under threat by governments around the world squeezing the global “civil society space”. Can we suggest that spying on civil society groups seems at odds with fostering the government’s role “in protecting and promoting human rights” as is later stated in the annual report, and further undermines the security of this space?
Two immediate questions arise from this judgment.
Can you explain the rationale for placing human rights organisations under surveillance?
And importantly, at whose request was this surveillance authorised – which government department or foreign government requested that the surveillance take place and to what effect?
We would appreciate an early answer to these questions.
We, the undersigned, endorse the above open letter to the UK Foreign Secretary regarding GCHQ’s surveillance of human rights groups.
Big Brother Watch
Open Rights Group
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Global Partners Digital
Internet Rights and Principles Coalition
The World Wide Web Foundation
Association for Progressive Communications
Public Knowledge, USA
Bolo Bhi, Pakistan
Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), South Korea
Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communications (BNNRC), Bangladesh
ICT Watch, Indonesia
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
Dataskydd.NET Sverige, Sweden
Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya)
Derechos Digitales, Chile
Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)
Digital Defenders Partners, Ukraine
Global Geneva, Switzerland
Australian Privacy Foundation
Instituto Bem Estar Brasil
Internet Policy Observatory, Pakistan
Privacy and Access Council of Canada