Belfast Telegraph

Call State snoopers to account for spying on Amnesty International

By Patrick Corrigan

Ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the US and UK mass surveillance programmes two years ago, Amnesty International had been concerned that we ourselves might have been spied on.

This month the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees UK surveillance, confirmed that we had, indeed, been spied on by spooks at GCHQ.

We still don't know what private information they've been looking at, why it was of interest, who it was passed to, or if they're still spying on us.

We need answers. How was this allowed to happen and what justification could there be for such a violation of privacy and freedom of expression?

Amnesty conducts vital work all over the world, exposing human rights abuses and working with their victims, including here in Northern Ireland, where we are campaigning for a new mechanism to investigate Troubles-era human rights abuses and for an independent investigation of the Kincora child-abuse scandal.

This sort of work is the normal business of a human rights organisation - holding the state and others to account.

How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work if confidential correspondence could end up in the hands of governments, including those potentially implicated in violations like the UK security services, or UK allies like the brutal Saudi regime?

A key measure of a free society is how it treats its charities and NGOs. Snooping on charities is straight out of the KGB handbook. Do we really want to live in this sort of surveillance State?

If they're snooping on the world's largest human rights organisation, then who's next? The Women's Institute? You?

This has gone too far. We need proper checks and balances, not emergency legislation and State snoopers put above the law.

The Prime Minister must explain why the Government is subjecting law-abiding organisations to surveillance. What is now required is an independent inquiry into GCHQ surveillance of civil society groups and proper oversight of the use of electronic eavesdropping powers.

It cannot come quickly enough.

  • Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International

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