Amnesty in legal challenge to surveillance

The Guardian, London

Tue, Dec 10, 2013 - Page 7

The human rights group Amnesty International announced yesterday that it is taking legal action against the UK government over concerns its communications have been illegally accessed by UK intelligence services.

In the latest of a series of legal challenges sparked by the revelations based on documents released by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, Amnesty said it was “highly likely” its e-mails and telephone calls have been intercepted.

“As a global organization working on many sensitive issues that would be of particular interest to security services in the US and UK, we are deeply troubled by the prospect that the communications of our staff may have been intercepted,” said Michael Bochenek, director of law and policy for the human rights group.

The latest challenge follows revelations that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the secret British agency responsible for signals intelligence) and the US National Security Agency (NSA) have developed capabilities to undertake industrial-scale surveillance of the Web and mobile phone networks by trawling the servers of Internet companies and collecting raw data from the undersea cables that carry Web traffic.

Two of the programs, Prism and Tempora, can sweep up vast amounts of private data, which is shared between the two countries.

The scale of surveillance capabilities has led to widespread concern in Europe and the US about the ability of the UK and US security services to gather online communications.

There are three legal challenges under way in the UK involving several groups, including Liberty, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch.

Amnesty said that given the global and often highly sensitive nature of its work, it was “highly likely” the organization’s communications have been intercepted unlawfully by intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic.

It has issued a claim at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) arguing that the interception of its communications would be in breach of Article 8 (right to privacy) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the British Human Rights Act.

“We regularly receive sensitive information from sources in situations that mean their cooperation with Amnesty could present a real risk to their safety and the safety of their family,” Bochenek said.

“Any prospect that this type of communication is being intercepted by the US and UK raises substantive concerns and presents a real threat to the effectiveness of Amnesty International’s work,” he added.