Another day, another allegation of snooping by the U.S. government. After its recent revelation that the National Security Agency is monitoring the phone records and Internet activity of millions of Americans, The Guardian reported Sunday that the U.S. and Britain monitored and intercepted the digital communications of foreign officials during two international conferences in London. Both summits took place in 2009 amid the global economic meltdown and were hosted by then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The disclosure came from documents the British news organization obtained from Edward Snowden, the American defense contractor who has admitted to leaking secret information about the extent of NSA surveillance programs.

The Guardian broke its latest in a series of blockbuster stories on surveillance as heads of states convened in Northern Ireland for the start of the G-8 summit Monday. Among those attending are President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, which could make things somewhat diplomatically awkward given that the other countries participating all also sent representatives to the 2009 meetings where the spying is purported to have taken place.

The Guardian:

It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by GCHQ and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.

There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were uncovered by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls “ground-breaking intelligence capabilities” to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.

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— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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