The British government’s admission today that it spied on Amnesty International is a shocking example of how easily mass surveillance programs can be abused, and the grave threat these programs pose to the operations of all human rights organizations, PEN American Center said today.

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) notified Amnesty International on July 1 that the government had intercepted and stored Amnesty’s communications under its mass surveillance programs, which are similar to those conducted by the United States government. The IPT did not provide details on the reasons why Amnesty International was subject to surveillance or what the UK government has done with the information collected from Amnesty’s communications.

“This confirms our worst fears about mass surveillance programs—they are being used to spy on human rights activists and organizations engaged in completely lawful activities,” said Katy Glenn Bass, deputy director of free expression programs at PEN American Center. “Groups like Amnesty and PEN depend upon our ability to keep sensitive communications with dissidents and activists around the world confidential and protected. The British government’s actions are a violation of privacy and a fundamental threat to human rights advocacy around the world.”


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.

Katy Glenn Bass, Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs: 212-334-1660, x 4818 
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, +1 646-779-4830