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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 13, 2005

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 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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August 25, 2005

BBC Radio 5 interview now up online

The interview I did with Kevin Anderson for BBC Radio 5 Pods and Blogs show is now up online, for a limited time only. It will likely be replaced some time around Monday 29 Aug-ish, when the next show goes out at which point I'll post/podcast the MP3 of my 10 minute segment.

The nice thing about blogging this, though, is that I can correct a slip of my tongue. I said that 1.6 billion AOL customer records were stolen, but in fact it was 1.6 billion Acxiom customer records. I have no idea why Acxiom morphed into AOL in my head, but at least I can clarify that here.

UPDATE: My section is now online as an mp3 and in Ogg Vorbis format (thanks JG).

(Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.)

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August 21, 2005

BBC Radio Five (not quite so live)

Have to pop over to BBC TV Centre tomorrow to record an interview about this digital rights group that I'm helping set up, and data retention. The interview will be aired overnight, during the Blog and Podcast Hour. When I get more details, I'll let you know, but I'm guessing it'll be easier to listen after the event via their streaming than to stay up all night wondering what time it's on.

(Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.)

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July 28, 2005

The right to digital freedom

Danny O'Brien writes about our UK digital rights project in The Guardian today. Hopefully this will get a few more people to add their names to our pledge. In less than a week, we've managed to attract 450 people to promise their support to us, we've had emails from individuals who want to do more than just give us money, and we've had both interest and support from journalists who see a clear need for an EFF-like organisation here in the UK.

Since Saturday, I've been obsessively refreshing the PledgeBank page, watching the count go up - sometimes in increments of one, sometimes in huge bounds. The response has, I must admit, surprised me as I rather thought we'd get pledges from a few dozen of the people who were there at OpenTech, and that would be that. Instead, we have reached nearly half our target within just five days.

I suspect, however, that attracting that last 550 people will be a lot harder than persuading the first 450, which is where you come in. Somewhere out there, in the blogosphere, are another 550 people who feel passionately enough about protecting their digital freedoms that they'll support our endeavour. We just need to reach them, so if you want to support us, please blog.

Additional links: my initial post; Cory's BoingBoing post; and Danny's post about how this got going, from which:

What can you do with a monthly budge of 5000UKP a month? Well, at the risk of sounding "Just Five Pounds Will Free This Poor DRMed Document And Let It Roam Free In One of Our Free Range Open Standards", we did some back of the envelope calculations after the talk, and agreed we could do something: Probably two staffers and an office.

One would act as a media conduit. Half our problem in the UK right now is that the press just don't have anyone in their address books that they can confidently call about on these issues. As Rufus said, most of the time they just run music industry press releases as news. The biggest lesson for me with NTK was that your best way to influence the agenda, and generate support, is to generate stories, and point people to the right experts. Just having someone at the end of a phone, handing out quotes and press releases, and pro-actively calling journalists to make sure they know what's going on, putting them in contact with all the other orgs in this area in the UK, is half the work.

The rest of the job is actual activism (one person can do a lot, if they don't need to cram all their white paper writing, research, and lobbying between contract coding sessions, and finishing their university degree) and bootstrapping more funding.

UPDATE: We're also now on BBCi. Pretty good level of interest for a project that currently doesn't even have a name.

Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.

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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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