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October 26, 2005

ORG blog moves to a permanent home

Finally, we've got a new home for the ORG blog - www.openrightsgroup.org - and all the posts and the majority of comments have been moved over to the new domain. If you've linked to org.suw.org.uk, please update your link to point to the new URL! This blog is now officially decommissioned!

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 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 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.

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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July 23, 2005

Defending digital rights in the UK

I've had a few meetings with Danny O'Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the last few weeks, talking about the possibility of starting some sort of EFF-like organisation in the UK and generally volunteering myself to assist. At the moment, the digital rights activist community in the UK is somewhat fragmented and I believe that there's a real need to provide to the organisations that exist some tools with which to share knowledge and encourage collaboration, and to draw new people into the various related debates.

We started the debate today with the Where's the British EFF? panel discussion at OpenTech, and a straw poll of the audience at the end showed that there is support for such an organisation. After the session was over, Danny set up a pledge drive on Pledgebank, in order to raise some money to get things moving.

"I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK but only if 1000 other people will too."

- Danny O'Brien

Already we have 20 people signed up - just another 980 to go before 25 Dec 05. If you believe that we need to protect out digital rights here in the UK (and Europe) then please do make that pledge.

I'm really very excited about being a part of this. Over the last year I've got more and more involved in copyright and digital rights activism, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to do more.

Originally posted at Chocolate and Vodka.

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OpenTech 2005

Here at OpenTech 2005, feeling very much in my natural habitat: surrounded by fellow geeks. Although a bout of delayed jetlag knocked me out a little this morning and I spent the second session sitting in the hallway talking to Alan Connor, who was suffering dreadfully from a hangover and thus was pretty much in the same state of mind as I.

The session I chaired, Practical Open Content (with Rufus Pollack, Paula le Dieu, Steve Coast and Tom Chance - thanks guys!), went pretty well I think. We discussed various open content projects, including Science Commons, Remix Reading, Free Culture UK and Open Street Maps, and the various issues faced by them. It was all videoed, and as usual I feel a bit of a loss about what was said because I was so busy concentrating on it that I can't remember it. I'm sure someone somewhere took notes, but it was a good discussion with interesting questions from the audience.

Because I'm feeling a bit tired, I haven't taken notes of everything. In fact, there's just the BBC Backstage launch and the discussion about launching a British/European version of the EFF. I'm sure that others have taken notes, so maybe try the Opentech tag on Technorati. Oh, and don't forget the Essential OpenTech 2005 Primer, which is just ace.

BBC Backstage
Ben Metcalfe announced the official launch of BBC Backstage, wherein the BBC make various bits of their content available for non-commercial use - as they put it 'use our stuff to build your stuff'. He went through a bunch of slides explaining what sort of stuff they are releasing and how, and what sort of stuff you might like to think about building with their stuff.

Really cool examples:

- Dynamite, which is a site remixing BBC Travel news, local news, Flickr, weather and Google maps. Ubercool.
- BBC News Front Page Archive, which shows every change made to the front page of the BBC News site, e.g. the archive of July 7th. (Related fact: BBCi was fielding 50,000 hits a second yesterday.)
- Rebotcast Reads BBC News, which is a podcast of a bot reading the news

He also announced a competition for BBC Backstage developers, to encourage people to come up with prototypes that demonstrate new uses for the BBC's programme schedule data and win actual real prizes such as a server. Geek bling!

Should there be a British EFF?
Ian Brown, Rufus Pollock, Danny O'Brien, Cory Doctorow

Missed Ian's short talk, sorry.

Rufus, has worked with FFII, UKCDR, Friends of the Creative Domain. But rather go through the organisations, why we are having these discussions because these issues that relate to the knowledge economy are suddenly becoming very important. Similar to the environmental issues from the 60s onwards when it became important. So there is a whole spectrum of groups who are working in that area - there is no single solution to how we organise activism and policy etc. Those of us here believe in an open approach but there's not a lot of representation, e.g. at a political level, and in the media they are not taking both sides of the debate. At the basic level, we need to have a group that people, e.g. journalists, know they can call. FFII does get calls, but that's only just started happening. But we need a spectrum of people - extremists and the guys who cut the deal are required, we need people to say XYZ is unacceptable, to stir things up, and the people who then actually do the deal.

Cory, from the American EFF. EFF is not a legal defence organisation, but they take very narrow cases which can change the law. They have no funding or resources to be a defence organisation, although they have contacts. EFF didn't start out to be an impact litigator. It was founded and funded by some people who wanted to defend people in need, so they hired attorneys and it developed from there. Do grassroots organisation, work on policy/standards/treaties and lobbying, but what we don't do very well is grassroots stuff that goes beyond letter writing and sending us a cheque. There's a real concern that if there were chapters of the EFF that they would stray from the EFF's position and could end up in court arguing against themselves. Are now leading some free software project, but need other things, say for designers, and any UK organisation needs to consider that. Cory is the entire EFF staff in all of Europe. Often bad laws are created by a sort of too-fro process by edging things forward on two fronts. Cory is here to work on the issues where American laws might have an impact on European laws. In the States, had a big victory for the Broadcast Flag, but in Europe there is a similar initiative that goes further than the Broadcast Flag did, and that's the sort of thing that a European/UK activist group should be addressing. You don't need to be a geek to understand some of these issues.

Questions from Danny: What works and what's missing?

Ian - what doesn't work is membership organisations, and things such as FIPR or No To ID which is a single issue thing and costs only £10-£15 to join, haven't been successful. It's not that people don't like joining (look at Greenpeace or the RSPB), but for some reason these things haven't worked as well as in the US. Activism in terms getting people to write to MPs for e.g., doesn't seem to work either, and when people write it doesn't really work in getting MPs to change their mind if it goes contrary to party line. Lobbying is better, e.g. House of Lords are far more interested in digital ID than the House of Commons, especially Labour MPs.

Rufus - potential approaches, we are lucky that we care about something and that's what motivates people. Abstract issues are difficult, but concrete things involve people. Pitch actual examples to the grassroots, not the concepts, e.g. all software developers would be affected by software patents, but open source people were the most involved in the campaign to resist them. So getting people engaged is to look for people who are affected. Often membership organisations bootstrap from donations, although often membership orgs don't pay their own way. Will be difficult to run a policy organisation on volunteers - activists yes, but not policy. If you're doing to talk to the government and press you need funding, which is hard to get in the UK. Can provide a community and try to grow it, but without funding it's difficult.

Cory - EFF doesn't take government money. Here think tanks can get money, but activists can't. EFF has built coalitions with other activists groups and that works very well. Appeals to the constitution also works, e.g. with strong crypto they used a free speech argument which worked rather than the arguments about technical issues. Human rights issues are very strong and powerful. There is the European Court of Human Rights, and it overrides local law and it's important to look at that, because young lawyers will do it for free. Letter writing campaign, even duplicative letters, work in the US. If you get someone to write a letter, even a duplicative letter, introduces them to actually doing something. Appealing to industry does not work in the US.

Danny - Money's what's missing. Historically, every few years the idea of organising a big thing comes up. Danny's done this and money is lacking.

Stef Magdalinski - We can do a lot without money, theyworkforyou cost £2k, and has gone round the dot.com millionaires and asked for money and they just vanish. Having given up on the UK guys, the US guys have made their money globally and shouldn't we ask them to fund a global project.

Danny - there's more than just dot.com billionaires, there are organisations that are in this area. But because we are used to doing this on a shoelace, and there's no access to these people.

Richard Alan - Ex-MP. Was in the house of commons. Letter writing does work. Any MP that got 100 letters on an issue would act. Making it concrete is important, you have to make things relevant to people, say 'this is what will happen to your constituents', then that is concrete. Money is important and has been lacking. Another thing is about liberty, because although we have a Liberty, they muddy the waters by focusing on human rights.

The Rest
Back in the hallway, mainly cos their's wifi here. Probably not going to take anymore notes, but has been a damn good day.

Originally posted on Strange Attractor.

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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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