A whistleblower has come forward in the UK with details of a hacking operation that targeted a number of UK-based activists. According to the letter, sent by an anonymous whistleblower to the UK’s Green Party, Scotland Yard worked alongside government hackers based in India to penetrate the emails of at least ten British activists. One of those activists is Australian-born Ciaron O’Reilly, who is well known for his undertakings in the anti-war movement.
Mr O’Reilly, who is the only name in the letter to have surfaced so far, believes that he was targeted because of his support of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The letter in which he was mentioned was addressed to Green Party peer Jenny Jones, and has triggered an investigation by the UK’s police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
O’Reilly was informed about the possible illegal breach of his data last week, when he was approached by a London law firm with details of the letter. According to that law firm, his email account and password were identified directly in the letter, which spoke about the secretive Scotland Yard operations. Since moving to the UK in 1996, O’Reilly has founded three activist support groups, the first of which was allegedly infiltrated by a former soldier.
History of Activism
In addition, O’Reilly was one of the main protagonists involved in organizing the protests outside of the Ecuadorian embassy when Julian Assange was incarcerated. It is the Brisbane-born activist’s belief that his support for the Wikileaks founder is what has made him a person of particular interest.
O’Reilly has been quick to point out the fact that his being considered an important target demonstrates that the UK police are seriously out of touch with reality. According to O’Reilly, activists such as himself “could end up in quite vulnerable positions with these [police], who kind of overrate our significance,” further commenting that,
“[P]art of overrating our significance is justifying their budgets. If I’m their problem, they haven’t got a problem. The reason I’m coming out publicly is to remind people how dangerous this is because with areas like the secret police, there’s no accountability, there’s no transparency.”
In order to help the IPCC to carry out its investigations, O’Reilly and seven other people have volunteered their passwords for cross checking with what is contained in the whistleblower’s letter. For now, it is unknown how many of those passwords were correct, but it has been confirmed that O’Reilly’s email account was one of the passwords in the letter.
The content of correct passwords within the letter would appear to suggest that whoever the whistleblower is had a direct involvement with the illegal hacking operation, to such an extent that they were privy to details of the case. This is confirmed by the whistleblower in the letter, who claims to have formerly worked for intelligence that worked alongside Indian police and hackers.
According to the whistleblower, the unit illegally penetrated the email accounts of journalists, as well as activists and campaigners. The whistleblower is said to have come forward because abuse at the hands of the secret surveillance operation had slowly been increasing. From the letter:
“Over the years, the unit had evolved into an organisation that had little respect for the law, no regard for personal privacy, encouraged highly immoral activity and, I believe, is a disgrace.”
On receipt of the letter, the Green Party peer informed the IPCC and called for “a full-scale criminal investigation into the activities of these police officers and referral to a public inquiry.”
The Metropolitan Police has issued a statement confirming that it is aware of the ongoing investigation into possible members of its forces being involved in hacking.
Under the Spotlight
This isn’t the first time that Mr O’Reilly has been under the spotlight because of his activism. He was arrested five times in 2008, under anti-terrorist legislation. On those occasions, he was arrested in London, Belfast, and Dublin. It is O’Reilly’s firm belief that police use “the whole cover of the war on terrorism to crack down on the civil rights of non-violent, anti-war people.”
Perhaps one reason that the police are interested in O’Reilly is because he has already served time in prison twice due to his past activities. Those convictions were for damaging US military equipment, including a US navy warplane. However, the fact remains that being involved in activism (no matter how misguided those past activities may have been) is no excuse for illegal hacking by the authorities.
Opinions are the writer’s own.
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