Two human rights organizations have called on Northern Ireland's Policing Board to launch an inquiry into alleged covert surveillance against lawyers and journalists by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). 

Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) have urged the Policing Board to hold an inquiry after PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher gave an "utterly vague" report on the issue. 

The two organizations added that Boutcher provided inadequate answers to questions asked by the Policing Board last September. 

The issue came to light during an Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) investigation into claims made by Northern Irish journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, who said they were subjected to unlawful surveillance between 2011 and 2018 in a bid to uncover their sources. 

The investigative journalists were arrested in 2018 shortly after the release of their award-winning documentary "No Stone Unturned", which investigated alleged collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces in the 1994 Loughlinisland Massacre, in which six Catholics were killed. 

The arrests were later ruled unlawful and the PSNI and Durham Constabulary, who carried out raids against the two men, were rebuked by Northern Ireland's top judge. 

McCaffrey and Birney asked the IPT to investigate the use of covert surveillance against them but only found out last year that the tribunal had been conducting a secret investigation into the matter, more than four years after they lodged the complaint. 

Amnesty International and the CAJ said that the IPT has revealed three instances of covert surveillance against McCaffrey and Birney - in 2011, 2013, and 2018. 

The two organizations added that they fear that the use of covert surveillance against journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates goes much further than what has been revealed in the investigation so far. 

They are now calling on the Policing Board to exercise its formal powers and secure a full disclosure from the PSNI. 

"The Policing Board rightly criticized the Chief Constable’s answers to their questions," Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director, said in a statement. 

"His report clearly fell short of their expectations in terms of transparency which is unacceptable and undermines the Board’s role of holding the police accountable.

"We welcome the Board’s request for further information from the Chief Constable and its decision to task the Board’s human rights advisor, John Wadham, to further investigate police policy and practice.

"However, given the inadequacy of the responses from the Chief Constable, and in the interests of public confidence in both policing and accountability of policing, the Board should now also move to exercise their powers to hold an inquiry into potentially unlawful use of covert surveillance powers."