British government spying on Amnesty International

This video from Amnesty International UK says about itself:

Live Q&A: Edward Snowden

2 June 2015

Two years since Edward Snowden revealed the scale of illegal and unnecessary surveillance by our governments, Amnesty hosted a live Q&A, with questions from both our experts and from Twitter.

Find out more about Amnesty’s work on mass surveillance here.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

GCHQ spied on Amnesty International, tribunal tells group in email

Human rights group denounces revelation as outrageous as after Investigatory Powers Tribunal says its communications have been illegally retained

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent

Wednesday 1 July 2015 23.54 BST

The government’s electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ spied illegally on Amnesty International, according to the tribunal responsible for handling complaints against the intelligence services.

Confirmation that surveillance took place emerged late on Wednesday, when the human rights group revealed that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) sent it an email correcting an earlier judgment.

The extraordinary revision of a key detail in the ruling given on 22 June may alarm many supporters of Amnesty, who will want to know why it has been targeted.

In the original judgment, the IPT said that communications by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the South African non-profit Legal Resources Centre had been illegally retained and examined.

In the email sent on Wednesday, the tribunal made it clear that it was Amnesty and not the Egyptian organisation that had been spied on – as well as the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.

The breach of surveillance powers, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, related to retaining databases for longer than was permitted. Amnesty had been one of the claimants in the case, but in the original judgment the IPT made “no determination” on the organisation’s complaint – implying that either their emails and phone calls were not intercepted or that they were intercepted but by legal means.

Responding to the revelation, Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said: “It’s outrageous that what has been often presented as being the domain of despotic rulers has been done on British soil, by the British government.

“How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuse can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?

“After 18 months of litigation and all the denials and subterfuge that entailed, we now have confirmation that we were in fact subjected to UK government mass surveillance. 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, we would never even have known. What’s worse, this would have been considered perfectly lawful.”

The IPT email made no mention of when or why Amnesty International was spied on, or what was done with the information obtained. The organisation is calling for an independent inquiry into how and why a UK intelligence agency has been spying on human rights organisations.

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, which also took a similar case to the IPT, said: “Our system of oversight and remedy has fundamentally failed. The communications of one of the world’s leading human rights organisations – Amnesty International – were targeted by British spies, unlawfully, and our commissioners and courts failed to admit it, depriving individuals around the world of the validation and condemnation of, and redress for, unlawful government practices that is so desperately needed.

“Without Edward Snowden, without an 18-month legal battle, without an honest reckoning by whichever upstanding individual spotted and admitted this grave error, the unlawful conduct of the British intelligence agencies would never have been exposed by the very court charged with exposing it.

“Today’s farcical developments places into sharp relief the obvious problems with secret tribunals where only one side gets to see, and challenge, the evidence. Five experienced judges inspected the secret evidence, seemingly didn’t understand it, and wrote a judgement that turned out to be untrue. We need to know why and how this happened.

“Any confidence that our current oversight could keep GCHQ in check has evaporated. Only radical reforms will ensure this never happens again.”

See also here.

News from eg, Russia or China about similar government spying on human rights organisations would be spinned by politicians like David Cameron as proof that these countries are evil totalitarian dictatorships, and that more British taxpayers’ billions of pounds should be spent on Trident nuclear weapons. Let us hope that no one in Russia, China or elsewhere will spin this British news this way …

British grey heron survey on the Internet, after 87 years

This is a grey heron video from Italy.

From Wildlife Extra:

Britain’s longest-running bird survey hits the web

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has been counting Grey Heron nests since 1928 and now it has made it easier for its army of volunteer surveyors by allowing them to record their observations on the internet.

The Heronries Census has covered 400,000 nests since it began. The survey collects annual counts of ‘apparently occupied nests’ in UK heronries and uses the data to monitor the population sizes of both Grey Herons and Little Egrets.

Counts are made at heronries by the BTO’s volunteers. It is one of the simplest surveys and requires no special skills.

So for 88 years, it has provided an annual estimate of the total UK breeding population of Grey Herons: this is the longest series of such data for any bird species in the world!

Until now, most counts have been mailed to BTO on special cards but, from 25 June, the option of direct online input of data became available to the observers for the first time.

John Marchant, the National Organiser of the Heronries Census for the BTO, says, “Going online is the most important development in the long history of the Heronries Census.

“It will make it easier for existing volunteers to contribute and will open the scheme up for members of the public to report new nesting sites for herons and enter casual counts of nests apparently occupied.”

Online data input is now available for all of the BTO’s major surveys, alongside the submission of paper forms.

Marchant, who has been involved in the Heronries Census for 22 years says: “We hope in due course to expand the concept to cover more species that habitually nest in colonies, such as Rooks and inland nesting Cormorants.”

The results of the Census has revealed the pressures on heronries over the years. The long-term information shows a general increase in numbers, though there has been a strong downturn since 2001, perhaps due to recent cold winter weather and the increasing frequency of spring gales.

The most striking feature in the trend over the last 88 years is the effects of harsh winters which leads to high mortality rates and a clear dip in the population levels.

For more information go to