On June 16, the Guardian revealed that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British counterpart of the American National Security Agency (NSA), spied on the internet activities and phone calls of foreign politicians during the G-20 summit meetings in London in 2009.
The activities of the GCHQ included penetrating the security on delegates’ Blackberrys to monitor their emails and phone calls, supplying analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit, and using an email interception program and key-logging software to spy on delegates’ use of computers. They reportedly targeted the Turkish finance minister and the South African delegation, and received reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The evidence for such activities comes from documents leaked to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden previously released information about the NSA programs of spying on the phone and internet use of American citizens. Rumors of spying at international conferences are common, but evidence confirming such activity is rare.
While the invasion of privacy by government intelligence agencies is often done for the claimed purpose of fighting international terrorism, it appears that the British government is not above using such methods to gain an advantage in normal diplomatic affairs. As the U.K. prepares to host a G-8 summit in Northern Ireland this week, it remains to be seen whether the delegates to this meeting will be the victims of spying as well.