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International Relations worried about British spying claims

The International Relations Department says the issue must be investigated by the UK government.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of International Relations has voiced concern over claims that the UK government has spied on South African diplomats.

It has been claimed British Intelligence agents spied on government officials attending a G20 summit in 2009.

The department's Clayson Monyela said reports that Britain repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and e-mails are of great concern.

The UK newspaper _The Guardian _reported Britain had used "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to monitor communications between officials at meetings in London.

Monyela said the issue must be investigated.

"We've got good and strong relations with the United Kingdom and we call on their government to investigate this matter. They should take strong and visible action against the perpetrator."

The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by British and American security agencies.

SPYING IS 'COMMON'

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said if the spying did happen it's a more common occurrence than governments are willing to let on.

The evidence of the bugging is contained in documents classified as top secret, which were uncovered by whistle blower Edward Snowden, who worked for America's National Security Agency (NSA), and seen by The Guardian.

The documents suggest the operation was sanctioned at senior level in the government of former prime minister Gordon Brown.

The ISS's Martin Ewi said spying was a somewhat common practice for governments but usually only for security.

"It's something that in the intelligence community everyone knows [about] and it comes at a time when [US President Barack] Obama is struggling to explain to the world about these kinds of activities."

He said, however, that in this case, it appears as though British intelligence was looking for more than just potential security threats.