CCLA is deeply concerned by the revelation that private communications of civil liberties and human rights organizations are subject to surveillance by security agencies. In particular, it raises troubling questions about the ability to effectively hold governments accountable and for the safety of those working for civil liberties and human rights in countries with poor human rights records.
In a decision released today, the United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) found that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intercepted and accessed the email communications of civil liberties organizations. The decision was made in proceedings brought by various international civil liberties and human rights organizations, including CCLA, challenging the use of information obtained by the UK’s security and intelligence services, both directly and from foreign governments.
The IPT initially revealed that the GCHQ intercepted and accessed email communications of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre (LRC); shortly thereafter they issued a correction, and indicated that it had been Amnesty International, not the EIPR, whose communications had been accessed. While the IPT found that the interception and access were lawful under relevant UK law, the GCHQ’s failure to comply with its own internal policies on interception, access and examination amounted to a breach of Article 8 of the UK’s Human Rights Act (privacy).
The IPT did not make a finding with respect to other civil liberties and human rights organizations involved in the matter. However, this does not mean their communications have not been intercepted, accessed, stored or otherwise used.
CCLA is part of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) and several of its members were instrumental in bringing this matter before the IPT. INCLO members include CCLA, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Argentina), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Liberty (United Kingdom) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.