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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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» http://www.opinionatedgeek.com:80/Blog/Blog.aspx?blogentry=00135 from Geoff's Blog
Score: 2/5   "Interesting Plot Clumsily Told"   This book tries to make the near future appear a dystopia, where all the anti-privacy people-tracking technologies have come to fruition.   There's nothing here that would be new in a... [Read More]

» http://www.opinionatedgeek.com:80/Blog/Blog.aspx?blogentry=00135 from Geoff's Blog
Score: 2/5   "Interesting Plot Clumsily Told"   This book tries to make the near future appear a dystopia, where all the anti-privacy people-tracking technologies have come to fruition.   There's nothing here that would be new in... [Read More]

Comments

"The 'middle class' lable is a red herring - digital rights are
important for everyone, regardless of age, background or location".


Quite right: Any fool politician (or journalist) can understand the importance of internet uptake and website accessibility and there aren't (afaik) a bunch of powerful SIGs trying to prevent poor people from using the internet or ocularly disadvantaged people from reading what is there.

You could say that esoteric digital outrages, such as software patents, are a direct violation only of the rights and freedoms of the relatively few - but they have profound implications for the future of the whole of society.

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