Govt calls for probe into spy reports
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has called on the British government to investigate allegations that South African delegates were spied on during the 2009 G20 meetings, in London.
This comes after the UK's Guardian newspaper reported that former American spy Edward Snowden leaked documents showing Britain had spied on a number of foreign G20 delegates, including those from SA.
The leaked documents reportedly show British agents hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and e-mails using state of the art surveillance equipment.
"We have solid, strong and cordial relations with the UK and would call on their government to investigate this matter fully with a view to take strong and visible action against any perpetrators," said DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela in a statement.
Monyela declined to comment any further on the matter, sticking to the department's official response. According to the statement, full details of the matter are not yet known, "but in principle we would condemn the abuse of privacy and basic human rights, particularly if it emanates from those who claim to be democrats".
According to the Guardian, the spying was not based on suspicious activity by SA's diplomats, but rather to find out more about the negotiating position of the South African government. The "computer networks exploitation" team apparently dug up old phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the head of the cryptology department in Pretoria, and the passwords acquired were then used to hack into the online accounts of South African diplomats.
In an interview with the newspaper, Snowden claimed the UK Government Communications Headquarters set up fake Internet caf'es and tricked foreign delegates into using them in an effort to intercept their communication.
The leaked documents come at an inconvenient time for Britain as it is hosting G8 leaders, at a summit in Northern Ireland.
French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that British prime minister David Cameron yesterday declined to address the issue at the summit. "We never comment on security or intelligence issues and I am not about to start now," he said. "I don't make comments on security or intelligence issues. That would be breaking something that no government has previously done."
Snowden recently leaked information regarding alleged spying programmes run by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA reportedly collects millions of telephone records and tracks foreign Internet activity on US networks, using the information to snoop on citizens' communication with the outside world.