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September 27, 2005

But what about Scotland?

Just spoke to a group of ISPs at the UK Network Operators Forum conference about ORG (Ian spoke about data retention), and from the audience came a very important question. What about Scotland?

Scotland has a different legal system, different legislation and its own parliament, so that means a whole different group of people we need to be talking to. We are keen to be inclusive, and didn't intentionally leave Scotland out, but we'll need to find our counterparts there. We are talking to Digital Rights Ireland already, but I am not aware of a similar group in Scotland (or Wales or Northern Ireland, for that matter.)

If you know whom I should be talking to, point them out to me. Meantime I shall put some feelers out to try and find the right people.

September 26, 2005

Briefing for members of the European Parliament on data retention

Privacy International have put together an excellent open letter to all members of the European Parliament, addressing the current proposals on communications traffic data retention. It begins:

Dear Members of the European Parliament,

We would like to take this opportunity to address you regarding the current proposals on communications data retention. As you are well aware, both the Council and the Commission have put forward proposals on data retention. It now appears that the policy is finally shifting to the first pillar away from the third. This does not mean that the policy has improved. Despite many edits over the last two years, both the Council and the Commission proposals continue to be invasive, illegal, illusory and illegitimate.

These proposals continue to require the collection and logging of every telecommunication transaction of every individual within modern European society. Almost all human conduct in an information society generates traffic data. Therefore traffic data can be used to piece together a detailed picture of human conduct.[1] Under the various proposals, this data will be kept for between six months and four years.

There are clear challenges for these proposals with respect to the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Charter on Fundamental Rights and national constitutions. The case still has not been made that retention is necessary in a democratic society.[2] The claimed need for harmonisation is premature at best and challenges democratic process.

The letter, which is well worth reading, has been endorsed by:

  • Association Electronique Libre, Belgium
  • BBA Switzerland
  • Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands
  • Chaos Computer Club, Germany
  • Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility - ES, Spain
  • Digital Rights, Denmark
  • EFFi, Finland
  • Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung, Germany
  • Foundation for Information Policy Research, UK
  • GreenNet, UK
  • ISOC-Bulgaria
  • Open Rights Group, UK
  • Privacyblog.net, Slovenia
  • Netzwerk Neue Medien, Germany
  • quintessenz.org, Austria
  • Stand.org.uk, UK
  • Statewatch, UK
  • Stop1984, Germany
  • Swiss Internet User Group, Switzerland
  • VIBE!AT, Austria

September 24, 2005

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP: No justification for data retention

On her website, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP worries that there has been no serious cost-benefit analysis of the UK's data retention proposals for Europe, and calls on other MEPs to question the necessity for such 'sloppy' legislation:

"[S]torage of everyone's phone, email and website use is costly as well as a massive invasion of privacy and increase in state surveillance, so the threshold for justification is a high one."

"I am still worried by the absence of a serious cost-benefit analysis. Assertions are made about the need to keep records for a considerable time, but the evidence is thin. No decent rebuttal has been delivered of the case for a short retention time plus specific 'freezing orders' for communications records of suspects."

"Since we will have the leverage to do so now, MEPs must probe the real necessity for invasive measures. Whilst EU-wide cooperation is crucial to stop terrorism and organised crime, Member States should first end cross-border turf wars and actually implement cooperative arrangements they've signed up to."

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September 23, 2005

The implications of wrongful arrest

Yesterday's Guardian ran the story of the wrongful arrest of David Mery on its front page, a story he's written up in a lot more detail on his site.

‘LONDON (Reuters): - A London underground train station was evacuated and part of a main east-west line closed in a security alert on Thursday, three weeks after suicide bombers killed 52 people on the transport network, police said. A Transport Police spokeswoman said Southwark station was closed and Jubilee Line services suspended between Waterloo and Canary Wharf in the east London business district.’

This Reuters story was written while the police were detaining me in Southwark tube station and the bomb squad was checking my rucksack. When they were through, the two explosive specialists walked out of the tube station smiling and commenting ‘nice laptop’. The officers offered apologies on behalf of the Metropolitan Police. Then they arrested me.

At first glance, this doesn't seem like a digital rights story, but a civil liberties story. And up to a point, it is. It's an absolute disgrace that someone can be arrested in the UK on the basis of having a rucksack, wearing a rain coat, and behaving in an entirely normal way on the London Underground system. It's imperative that we protest such kneejerk reactions by the police in the strongest possible terms, and that we let our MPs know that we do not accept that this sort of regime is necessary for the safety and welfare of the nation.

But this isn't an ORG matter, right?

Wrong.

This becomes a digital rights matter because the data collected by the police about David Mery is now sitting in the police database - his DNA, interview recordings, photograph, fingerprints, name, address, and whatever other details they take. Let's get this straight. David was arrested for no discernible reason, having committed no crime and, in fact, without there having been a crime for him to have been arrested on suspicion of. The charge of 'suspicious behaviour and public nuisance' is a ludicrous accusation, considering that he was doing what the rest of us do every day: waiting for a train.

David was released without charge, but his data wasn't. (Neither was some of the stuff that the police took from his flat.)

2005-08-31 Wednesday
09:00 I arrive at police station to surrender to custody as required by bail, and am joined by solicitor five minutes later. We are invited into a small room by a plainclothes police officer a further few minutes later. The officer tells us that it’s ‘NFA’ (no further action), explains that this means that they are dropping the charges, and briefly apologises. The officer (DS) in charge of the case is away from the station so the process of clearing up my case is suspended until he signs the papers cancelling the bail and authorising the release of my possessions. The meeting lasts about five minutes.

I send letters to the Data Protection Registrars of the London Underground, Transport for London (replied on 2005-09-05 that the ‘retention period for recording of stations is fourteen days’), the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police. The first three letters ask for any data, including CCTV footage, related to the incident on July 28, while the final one is much more generic asking for any data they have on me. They all have forty days to respond.

2005-09-08 Thursday
I talk to my solicitor about ensuring the Police return all my possessions, give us all the inquiry documents (which they may or may not do) and expunge police records (apparently unlikely to happen).

The solicitor sends a letter to the officer in charge of my case asking him to authorise the release of my possessions and forward us a copy of the custody record, and conveying to him how upset I am.

[...]

Under the current laws the Police are not only entitled to keep my fingerprints and DNA samples, but apparently, according to my solicitor, they are also entitled to hold on to what they gathered during their investigation: notepads of the arresting officers, photographs, interviewing tapes and any other documents they collected and entered in the Police National Computer (PNC).

The police have absolutely no reason to retain any data on David, but I fear that the chances of him being able to get his police records deleted are nil. Other than recording that he was wrongfully arrested, I see no good reason why they should retain his DNA, fingerprints, photographs etc., but reason seems to be increasingly absent from the way that security is handled in this country.

We will be keeping in touch with David to see what happens.

September 21, 2005

ORGnews Issue 1

OPENRIGHTSGROUPOPENRIGHTSGROUPOPENRIGHTSGROUPDOATYKITESOUPOPENRIGHTS
ooo First Beta Edition - Do Not Use On Children or The Elderly ooo

o Boring Administrivia
o URGENT DATA RETENTION ACTION NEEDED BY THURSDAY 2005-09-22
o Free Culture UK - Grassroots Action for The Public Domain
o Open GeoData Campaign Gets a Monkey

PLEDGE NOW STANDS AT: 865 FOUNDING MEMBERS

http://www.pledgebank.com/rights

>>> Boring Administrivia
You're receiving this mail because you joined the Digital Rights Pledge http://www.pledgebank.com/rights/ at some point, and we thought you'd like to know what was going on.

Dull technicalities such as arranging a bank account, free office space, a budget and grant applications continue apace. After several press enquiries addressed to "your digital rights thing", a name was chosen: the OPEN RIGHTS GROUP. Acclaimed as "okay", it served its principal purpose, which was to delay incorporation while the Secretary of State personally checks whether we are, technically, a "group": a special term, it turns out, in company law. No, we're not joking.

Those wanting an ongoing update on this fascinating stuff (and to help out) can watch Suw Charman's ORG proto-blog at:
http://www.openrightsgroup.org/

Explanation of what ORG will do:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,1537039,00.html

But these things are not important. What is, is this:

>>> Urgent Data Retention ACTION NEEDED BY THURSDAY 2005-09-22
You don't need us to tell you that the mandatory retention of data about every EU citizen's calls, mobile phone movements, and internet usage would be a bad thing (if you do, check http://www.edri.org/docs/lettertoUKpres.pdf for a joint letter from EDRi and Privacy International to the Council of Ministers on the problems with data retention).

But it's happening anyway: the EU Commission just published their proposal to do just that:
http://www.statewatch.org/news/2005/sep/com-data-retention-prop.pdf

And there's a live streaming press conference with Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini on the 'retention of data and the radicalisation and recruitment of terrorists' today (Wednesday 21 Sept) at 12.15pm.
http://europa.eu.int/comm/ebs/schedule.cfm

One of the key EU institutions considering their position on this proposal is the ARTICLE 29 WORKING GROUP: that's all of the Information Commissioners (data protection registrars) in the EU, acting as one.

Word has it that many of the Article 29 Working Group want to fight data retention.

But the UK Information Commissioner says he can't join the fight because he doesn't feel that he can publically stand against the UK government's recent paper "Liberty and Security: Striking the Right Balance".
http://www.edri.org/docs/UKpresidencypaper.pdf

Short summary: it has a CCTV picture of the London Bombers on the front page. Says civil liberties are nice and all but, woo, terrorism.

Longer summary (from the excellent Privacy International coverage):
http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-346410

EDRi has produced a short analysis of the paper, which finds that none of the examples used by the UK government would justify their data retention proposals:
http://www.edri.org/node/view/679

The latest draft of the EU's data retention plans have already excised the Article 29 working group from overseeing what sort of data gets retained.

The group want to fight, but the UK commissioner is reticent.

You can get them fighting back. Tell your Info Commissioner to stand up for your rights.

IF YOU HAVE TWO MINUTES:

Visit http://www.dataretentionisnosolution.com and sign European Digital Rights (EDRi)'s Europe-wide petition. EDRi is working hard at the EU level to alert politicians to the issues with data retention; the petition helps it demonstrate the size of the constituency it represents and will help boost Article 29's confidence.

IF YOU HAVE TWENTY MINUTES:

The UK Information Commissioner doesn't answer to the government: he answers to Parliament, and from them, to you. His mission (should he choose to accept it) includes: "protecting your personal information".

For that he doesn't need the government's backing: he needs yours.

1. Write to your MP, and tell him or her that you want the UK Information Commissioner to speak in the EU on your behalf against data retention. Use http://www.writetothem.com/

2. When you're done, copy and paste your message to the Commissioner's office email at: mail@ico.gsi.gov.uk If you like, cc: us at suw.charman+ico@gmail.com.

(You may want to check http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ before you send that second mail. We want the information commissioner to know we support him, but don't want to spam him to death. If he complains, we'll put up a sign.)

3. Forward this mail. Feel free to cut out everything but this plea. But make sure you include the expiry date: THURSDAY 2005-09-22.

Here's some points you could mention in your letter to your MP:

* Ask your MP to tell the Information Commissioner to speak for you, not the British government. Your right to have your personal data protected will outlast the current incumbents and must be assured by the appropriate legislation.

* The Commissioner has previously commented on both the expense of and lack of need for data retention. Ask your MP to ask that he fully and thoroughly investigate any data retention plans before rolling them out across Europe. Try not to mention "45 minute claims": it makes MPs uncomfortable and sweaty.

* The "Liberty and Security" paper published by the government actually only asks for "internet logins and logouts". The EU proposal also demands the To: and From: of emails. Tell your MP that even if the Commissioner is beholden to the government's stance, he should agree to no more than the minimum amount of data requested.

Be polite; be pursuasive: we want him on our side.

But most of all, be prompt. The Article 29 Working Group meets Thursday and Friday of this week.

We'll let you know how you get on. Remember, 850 people have your back.

>>> Free Culture UK - Grassroots Action for the Public Domain
Free Culture UK is a grassroots organisation that campaigns for key creative freedoms: a vibrant public domain, open formats, and free licenses. On October 1st, they're meeting up for their first Congress to set their agenda for the next year. If you're near London, you should pop along. If you're not, FC-UK has local groups in Birmingham, Brighton, Deptford, Exeter, Leeds and Reading - and can advise you on how to start your own.

http://www.freeculture.org.uk/wiki/MeetingMinutes/2005-Congress

>>> Open GeoData Campaign Gets a Monkey
Itching to chuck a fiver before the Open Rights Group pledge matures? The Pledge to support open access to state-collected geospatial date matured last week. They're collecting names to make sure that when you get tax-funded maps, you *really* get them: free for use and redistribution. And they're not sitting on their backsides waiting either: the OPENSTREETMAP project is creating a body of free data collected from geohackers all over the world. The pledge should earn them 500UKP, but a few more fivers wouldn't go amiss:

See what they've done: http://openstreetmap.org/
Find out why they're doing it: http://okfn.org/geo/manifesto.php
Paypal fivers or offers of help to: steve@fractalus.com

OPENRIGHTSGROUPOPENRIGHTSGROUPOPENRIGHTSGROUPSOUPYCAKEWAXGROUP

Are you doing something that defends or extends digital rights? Want more people to know about it? Worried about an issue that no-one has spotted yet? Mail suw.charman@gmail.com with your details. It's our job to tout you to the skies.

Groups mentioned:

http://privacyinternational.org/ - 15 years fighting for privacy
http://www.edri.org/about/sponsoring - 21 orgs, 14 countries
http://openstreetmap.org/ - the free wiki world map
http://www.freeculture.org.uk/ - grassroots for an open culture
http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ - because your rights are reserved

September 17, 2005

Mapping the digital rights landscape

A while back, when we first started talking about setting up ORG, I thought it would be a good exercise to explore the existing digital rights landscape in the UK. I wanted to create a mindmap which would allow me to see visually relationships between the various organisations working in this area (even if only very peripherally), and I based my map on work already done by Jo Walsh.

Unfortunately, events overtook me before I got to finish it, as you can see:

UK digital rights landscape

You can get the full-sized image from Flickr.

It really is a very much unfinished work, and I need your help to fill in all the gaps. For each organisation I need the key people, the issues that organisation addresses, and their website URL. Please leave info in the comments, rather than email me directly, so that then everyone can see what's already been found.

Right, over to you!

September 16, 2005

The Register: Phone cos and rights activists round on Clarke

i was so caught up in the conference I was at last Friday that I entirely failed to notice that we were in The Register, on data retention. As were ETNOA:

The European Telecommunications Network Operators's Association (ETNOA) called on UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke and his fellow ministers to engage in fuller discussions with industry.

Michael Bartholomew, a spokesman for the organisation, said the case for the compulsory retention of communications data had not been proven, and argued that tracking data for unsuccessful calls would be extraordinarily expensive, with operators having to make system changes costing in the region of £108m each.

"We think this is a rather unsophisticated approach to a complex problem," he told The Guardian.

Good to see other people getting vocal about it too.

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September 14, 2005

Expanding the public domain

A transcript of James Boyle's remarks on the public domain, copyright and Creative Commons, given at the Association of Research Libraries 146th Membership Meeting, May 26 2005. James calls for more evidence-based thinking on intellectual property issues, something that is currently sorely lacking.

Here’s another remarkable thing about intellectual property policy over the last 10 or 15 years: it is almost evidence-free. People criticize the FDA about Vioxx. But if we were doing FDA drug approvals the way we approved intellectual property expansions, this is how the process would go. The drug company would say, “This is my friend. He took the pill and he feels better.” Or sometimes even, “This is my friend, he needs to take a pill and he thinks it will make him better.” And then they would offer a model about as complicated as a picture of the person with a mouth and the pill in their stomach and say, “See?” That’s about as data-intensive as things have been.

What if we had a test case where two regions adopted different intellectual-property policies, and we actually had evidence showing how these policies worked? Well, we actually do have such a case—in the area of database protection. In Europe, there is strong database protection under both copyrights and sui generis database rights. Many European governments also claim some kind of copyright over databases. And there is the idea that institutions, such as the Ordnance Survey or the weather companies, should recover their costs by charging users. The US tradition is totally different. In the US, there are no rights over data or unoriginal compilations of data. Any text produced by the government is free from copyright and passes immediately into the public domain. As for government-funded data, it is produced and distributed to the public with the idea, remarkably, that taxpayers have already paid for this, and shouldn’t have to pay for it again.

Now, we actually have some good evidence about the effects of these different approaches. The United States database industry is considerably larger and more thriving, and has higher rates of return, than the European database industry. In fact, at the moment when Europe introduced sui generis database rights, there was a short one-time spike as database producers raced into the market, but then growth rates returned to previous levels, and many companies left the market. And when did Reed Elsevier and Thomson enter the legal database market in the United States? It was after a case called Feist, which said that facts, and unoriginal compilations of facts, were uncopyrightable. That is to say, European companies chose to come into a classically public information field in the United States after they had found out, for sure, that they could get no copyright in unoriginal databases. Yet, even without database rights, they’re getting high rates of return. So, we have evidence showing that less protection has been better for innovation than more protection. But you could spend days listening to arguments about database rights, and you’d never hear these facts mentioned.

(Via Open Access News.)

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September 13, 2005

Framing DRM

Kevin Marks uses Lakovian frames* to explain what's wrong with DRM to five different audiences, of which the first two:

Computer Users: DRM turns your computer against you
I know sometimes it seems like your computer has it's own agenda, when it refuses to print or copy or find your documents. DRM does this on purpose. It is designed to stop you copying and pasting, printing and sharing things. I don't think you want this.

Computer Scientists: DRM will fail through emulation
One of the basic precepts of Computer Science is the Church-Turing thesis, which shows that any computer can emulate any other one. This is not theory, but something we all use every day, whether it is Java virtual machines, or CPU's emulating older ones for software compatibility.

The corollary of this is that code can never really know where it is running. For a rock solid example, look at MAME, the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator, that runs almost any video game from the last 30 years. The games think you have paid a quarter when you press the '5' key.

I like this sort of comparative re-framing of debates. It provides for a variety of different viewpoints, acknowledges that there's more than one way to think about these issues and allows you to hit one very big bird many times with several well-framed stones.

* 'Frames' are a way of presenting information or rhetoric that is sympathetic to a specific audience's paradigm. George Lakoff applied frames to political communications thus illuminating how language is used by politicians to very subtly reinforce their point.

ZDnet: Digital rights group to fight data retention

Had an hour-long conversation with Karen Gomm from ZDNet UK yesterday, which resulted in this piece about ORG and data retention (page 2, page 3). A snippet for you:

The Open Rights Group wants to take on Charles Clarke over ID cards and telecoms data, and help develop fair-use rights for digital content

A digital rights organisation, the Open Rights Group (ORG), has been formed to tackle European and UK legislation which could threaten digital and civil freedoms.

ORG will serve as a hub for other cyber-rights groups campaigning on similar digital rights issues and follows in the footsteps of the US group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

September 11, 2005

The mother of all 'to do' lists

Louise, James and myself spent a good chunk of time yesterday going through the Memorandum of Association and the Articles of Association. They are basically the documents that explain what the Open Rights Group will be doing and how, and are a legal requirement for incorporating a company, which we will need to do in order to be able to take donations and act as a non-profit.

It's one of those tasks, though, that puts the 'argh' into 'tedious'. And talking of tasks, here's what we've achieved so far:

  1. We've found free office space in central London for the next six months, which is a significant coup because it's going to save us a lot of money and provide us with valuable resources.
  2. We've taken advice on the best legal form for the organisation to take - a company limited by guarantee - that will both protect members and give them a voice.
  3. We've obtained and are going through boilerplate constitutional documents: the Memorandum and Articles of Association.
  4. We've got a name, (and boy, was that time consuming!), and have checked Companies House regarding such a name.
  5. I've set up this interim blog on my own hosted server to keep you as informed as possible as what's going on and are making arrangements for a permanent home for our online presence.
  6. I've personally bought domain names, although I can't cover all variations because my budget's not big enough.
  7. We've been drafting roles and responsibilities documents for the Interim Board, Interim Advisory Council and Interim Executive Director.
  8. We've been hunting out potential supplementary sources of funding and have some good leads there.
  9. We've been trying to track down pro bono professional advice regarding things like incorporation.
  10. We've investigated the costs of different methods for gathering donations.
  11. We've been looking at potential free venues for holding plenary and other meetings and have started planning the first meeting.
  12. We've been fielding press requests for information, including BBC Radio 5, BBCi, Channel 4 Despatches, ZDNet, and the Washington Internet Daily.
  13. We've been looking into best practice on governance of not-for-profit organisations.
  14. We've been consulting other not-for-profits to find out about the pitfalls that we need to avoid, particularly in terms of the legalities and organisational issues.
  15. I've been invited to speak at three conferences on digital rights issues (details to be confirmed - I'll blog them when they are).
  16. We've been doing preliminary research into the various digital rights issues that we may be covering.
  17. I've been doing research into the 'digital rights landscape' - who's doing what in digital rights.
  18. We've been gathering volunteers - people who have emailed us to offer their help.
  19. We've drafted an initial campaign plan.
  20. We've been thinking about things like communications plans, website development plans, volunteer plans, future strategy etc.
  21. We've drafted a preliminary budget.
  22. We've been in close liaison with the EFF (beyond our contact through Danny and Cory), as well as speaking to members of FIPR, the FFII, No2ID, Citizens Online, CDR, STAND, UKIF and UKNOF.

Of course we still have a lot to do, including (and this list is by no means in exhaustive or in any sort of order):

  1. Finalise the Memorandum and Articles of Association, and have them checked by a lawyer.
  2. Decide on the financial Standing Orders
  3. Incorporate.
  4. Find a bank and open an account.
  5. Open PayPal account.
  6. Set up membership processes and follow up on the pledge.
  7. Finalise the organisation structure to provide accountability, transparency and expert input.
  8. Write job descriptions for the Board and Advisory Council members, and the Executive Director.
  9. Decide how we will decide who is doing what going forward.
  10. Pursue funding opportunities.
  11. Decide on types of membership.
  12. Design processes for membership decision making and financial control.
  13. Investigate Data Protection as regards the membership database.
  14. Set up an appropriate membership database.
  15. Find out legal requirements for everything from insurance to Health and Safety to employment law to contracts.
  16. Register with the Inland Revenue.
  17. Communications plan.
  18. Campaigns plan.
  19. Find pro bono experts.
  20. Benefactor management plan.

OK, so that gives you a taster of what we're spending our spare time doing, and what we still have to do.

If you happen to be, or know, a lawyer willing to work pro bono with experience in setting up a non-profit company limited by guarantee, please contact us. We would also like to speak to a pro bono accountant if at all possible, and someone with expertise in Data Protection Act compliance.

September 08, 2005

BBCi: UK digital rights group sets up

Spoke to the BBC yesterday, and the results are up online today. That's nearly as fast a turnaround as blogging!

In case you're curious as to what I actually said to them:

The main aims of the Open Rights Group are:

- to foster a grassroots community of campaigning volunteers
- to connect journalists and the press with digital rights experts and activists

At the moment the media rely very heavily on press releases from industry and government which results in biased or malformed reporting on digital rights issues. We hope to redress the balance by helping journalists more fully understand the issues and connect with the right experts who can explain alternative positions. We will be working alongside organisations such as No2ID and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), who are already making good progress in the digital rights arena, to raise awareness of these very important issues in the media.

We will also be organising volunteer-led campaigns and creating a strong grassroots community, including activists, technical experts and lawyers, who can exchange expertise and provide support to the community at large.

We have had overwhelming support since we announced the Pledge, which indicates that the Open Rights Group is an idea whose time has come. Many people in the UK are fed up of the way that our civil and human rights are being run roughshod over by big business and the government, and they are keen not just to donate money, but also to take part in grassroots campaigns.

We are using Pledgebank.com/rights to provide a way for members to pledge their cash to the organisation, and once that matures - by reaching 1000 signatories - we will be able to properly 'launch' the Open Rights Group. However, the group is already 'in beta', if you like - we are already planning our first campaign and collaborating with other organisations on the issues we will be addressing.

There are a wide number of digital rights issues in the UK, ranging from privacy concerns brought up by biometric passports and vehicle tracking systems to free speech issues surrounding overly restrictive copyright law to the threat to our right to private life and correspondence from proposed data retention legislation.

We will initially be concentrating our efforts on Home Secretary Charles Clarke's proposed draft EU framework on data retention for ISPs and telecommunications companies. We believe that the proposal is not only both unnecessary and unworkable, but that it may also contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

We have never needed an organisation like the Open Rights Group more than we do now. The implications of the digitisation of information and the ease with which such data can be now moved about are vast, and where physical restraints - such as having only paper copies of medical records - once helped secure our privacy, now it is only through unwavering vigilance that we will be able to prevent the abuse of our digital rights.
They then emailed me back and asked me to comment on the article they'd written about it back in June:
> "Gail Bradbrook, director of strategy and partnerships at Citizens
> Online, said the new group needed a clear, distinct identity if it was
> to succeed and avoid confusing people about its aims.

The Open Rights Group is very much a developing project. When Gail was
first interviewed, we had no web presence at all other than the
pledge. We're addressing that now with the blog at
www.openrightsgroup.org, and in due course will develop our own
website to help connect volunteers and activists.

> "There are all sorts of people working on rights around the internet, ID
> cards, freedom of speech and so on," she said.
>
> Ms Bradbrook questioned the list of issues that the group could take on
> and said there was a danger that it would only concentrate on "middle
> class" issues and debates.

There are a large number of both organisations and individuals working
on digital rights issues. Our aim is to work alongside these people,
helping them to connect with each other and providing them with
whatever support we can. We do not wish to take on issues which are
being successfully addressed by other organisations, but would prefer
to collaborate and assist. For example, if a journalist came to us to
ask about software patents, we'd pass them on to the Foundation for a
Free Information Infrastructure, (FFII) who have done fanatastic work
in Europe and have a lot of expertise to share.

The 'middle class' lable is a red herring - digital rights are
important for everyone, regardless of age, background or location. We
all have mobile phones, medical records and the right to vote
anonymously, so we are all affected by the way that new technology is
being used by government and big business. Whether people are online
or not, it is vital that we protect their digital rights.

> She said there was no doubt that such things were important but there
> were other issues that needed to be remembered.
>
> "I can get a whole lot more impassioned about the vast number of
> internet sites that are not accessible for disabled people," said Ms
> Bradbrook. "That's a fundamental right, to access information on the
> internet."

Accessibility is important, but it's not a part of our remit. It's
something that Citizens Online is addressing, and we give them our full
support in their efforts.

> "There are people that are fundamentally being left behind and want to
> get online and they can't," she said, adding that about a third of
> Britons had never used the net.
>
> "Is this going to be about social exclusion or protecting people that
> have quite a lot anyway?" she asked. "

How much people 'have' is not the question. The right to privacy, to
free speech, to private communications - these are all fundamental
rights which are being threatened by ill-conceived legislation,
ignorance and aggressive business practices and they are entirely
separate from social exclusion issues.

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Clarke fails to understand his own data retention proposal

Charles Clarke manages to misunderstand his own EU data retention proposal and thinks we have too many rights anyway.

From Sky News:

[Charles Clarke] told Euro MPs at the parliament in Strasbourg: "Of course criminals and terrorists use modern technology - the internet and mobile communications - to plan and carry out their activities.

"We can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs."

The data retention draft framework would require telecos and ISPs to retain traffic data - traffic about where you were when you made a call, and who you called, for example - not the actual phone call itself. Even if this legislation makes it on to the EU books, Clarke still won't be able to listen to your mobile phone conversations, although I suspect he'd really like to.

As for human rights, well, Clarke seems to think we don't really need them:

He stressed that a rethink of the [European] Convention [on Human Rights] - which prevents terror suspects being deported to countries where they may face persecution - will be central to the EU's response to the bombings.

He also made a dig at the reluctance of Euro MPs to agree access to information technology used by terrorists because of fears of breaching human rights.

He warned: "This European Parliament, as well as national parliaments, needs to face up to the fact that the legal framework within which we currently operate makes the collection and use of this intelligence very difficult, and in some cases impossible."

The legal framework which protects citizens from undue harassment, invasion of privacy and loss off free speech? That framework? I rather liked it, myself.

The BBC, meanwhile, tells us that according to the Home Office, data retention won't really cost all that much, honest guv:

A Home Office dossier published on Wednesday - entitled Liberty and Security: Striking the Right Balance - hits back at industry fears the cost of retention would be excessive.

It says that a government-funded project by a mobile phone company to keep data for 12 months had cost £875,999 (1,291m euros).

I'd like to see independent and comprehensive studies completed for a number of telecos and ISPs before I believed that this isn't going to put smaller ISPs out of business and increase our phone bills.

September 06, 2005

Introducing The Open Rights Group

After six weeks locked in the shed at the bottom of the NTK garden, wherein much deliberation, discussion and a small amount of bodily harm (non-grievous) took place, we finally have a name. I bring you... The Open Rights Group.

We were going to scribble it on the back on an envelope and pass it round, as per our normal working methodology, but we figured that this temporary blog could possibly do the job just as well. We will set up a permanent home on the web, so until then this rough and ready lean-to I whipped up just now will have to do.

So, what news of ORG, as we now like to be called? Whither our efforts this last few weeks?

Well, pretty much the first thing that we did was rope in a bunch of co-conspirators, so we now have on board:

  • Danny O'Brien
  • Ian Brown
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Rufus Pollock
  • Louise Ferguson
  • Stef Magdalinski
  • Suw Charman

We've also been having surreptitious chats with a few other people, twisting a few arms, and hope to announce some more names soon, just as soon as the plaster has set.

High on our agenda has been figuring out what it is that we're actually going to do. Pledging to 'fight for your digital rights' is all well and good, but it does sound a bit like a second-rate Beastie Boys track. We want to do something a bit more substantial than throw tantrums and nick VW badges, so here's our back-of-the-napkin manifesto for reclaiming you digital rights:

The Open Rights Group is committed to protecting your digital rights, to fighting bad legislation both in the UK and Europe, and to fostering a grassroots community of volunteers dedicated to campaigning on digital rights issues.

Your civil and human rights are being eroded in the digital realm. Government, big business and industry bodies are taking liberties with your digital liberties, actions they could never get away with in the "real" world.

Our goals are:
  • to raise awareness within the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to campaign to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture and assist a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts
Your right to privacy is being eroded by the government's ill-conceived ID card scheme, by biometric passports and the threat of vehicle tracking systems. Your right to free speech and freedom to use digital media is under threat from corporations who believe that 'fair use' of copyrighted works should exist only at their sufferance. Your right to private life and correspondence is under threat from a proposed European directive to log traffic and geographical data for every call you make, every SMS you send, every email you write, every website you visit.

It is essential in this time of international tension and uncertainty that we vigourously defend our digital civil liberties, ensuring that the our hard-won freedoms are not taken away simply because they've moved to the digital world.

We still have a lot to do and a lot to sort out, before the pledge matures, but we're on the case. I'll be posting here with news to keep you up to date with what we're doing, and will be keeping my eye out on the digital rights issues that come onto my radar.

September 02, 2005

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

Er, hello? Can you hear me at the back there?

Our Goals

  • to raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts

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