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May 03, 2012 | Jim Killock

We don't have to choose between freedom and copyright

The court orders for the Pirate Bay blocking notice say that:

IP address blocking is generally only appropriate where the relevant website's IP address is not shared with anyone else. If it is shared, the result is likely to be overblocking (see 20C Fox v BT (No 2) at [6]). In the present case, however, TPB's IP address is not shared. Thus IP address blocking is appropriate. Accordingly, the Defendants have agreed to orders which require IP address blocking

The UK’s Pirate Party has decided to mirror TPB here. By doing so, they not only lay themselves open to charges of copyright infringement, but also to IP blocking, which may well shut down their main website.

This is because both websites are currently at the same IP address 95.172.29.90. The court order would therefore require both websites to be censored. That of course would mean a court ordering the censorship of a political party: an unexpected outcome.

There are already add-ons claiming to get round the blocks. Others are expecting the DNS level blocking to be circumventable: no doubt people will be testing this shortly, as Virgin Media are already reported to be blocking the site.

But just because censorship doesn’t always work, that doesn’t make it right. We are particularly concerned about blocking TPB’s public blog, which is an act of pure censorship, with no questions around copyright. It is unnecessary for the court orders to include this content.

There are also, of course, other legitimate torrents we all know about, such as Linux distributions and Vodo torrents which should be excluded from the blocking order.

We continue to state, the Pirate Bay could be an irrelevance to the rightsholders. The groups asking for the court order have chosen to arrest its slow decline, and to put it into the front line. They have created a martyr and a hero by making them the victim of censorship.

It’s hard not to conclude that the Pirate Bay have achieved their aim. After all, their aim wasn’t to make a fortune from copyright infringement, no matter what IFPI and the BPI claim. Their aim was to make the copyright industries look ridiculous, outmoded and to place these companies into direct conflict with music and film fans. The Pirate Bay’s point has been to try to demonstrate that copyright itself is past its sell by date and can only be sustained through creating a dystopia of control, censorship and surveillance.

At ORG we don’t agree with that, but the BPI seems to, every time it pursues policies like the Digital Economy Act,or ACTA and asks for more website blocking and controls on search results. When Claire Perry adds her voice to calls to introduce network level controls on content, we see a growing alliance between those who want to control the Internet for very different reasons.

Politicians, meanwhile seem to be faced with a choice: destroy the copyright industries, or destroy the freedom the Internet has delivered us. They weigh up that the Internet doesn’t matter so much, so go with incrementally increasing the mechanisms of control and censorship.

It is a false choice. The Pirate Bay was in decline. The Internet is the backbone of modern freedom, political, social and creative. Its destruction cannot be contemplated by anyone sane enough to remember that we are being pushed by people with quite extreme views, on the rights holder and the opposite side.

Which side are you on? We’re not on the side of copyright infringement or the groups ordering censorship.

We’re on the side of the people and their rights and dignity. We don’t have to tolerate any of this: it’s time for a lot of people to grow up.

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May 03, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

The 'spirit of transparency' haunts the copyright roundtables

We asked for details of the recent DCMS copyright roundtables. We've now received the minutes of both, and the proposals written by search engines for how they can improve their work to tackle infringement.

With all the waiting (and the waiting, and the waiting - so much of the waiting) for the Communications Green Paper, it has been easy to forget that DCMS have been continuing their meetings with rights holders and intermediaries about voluntary co-regulation agreements to tackle copyright infringement online. We've blogged many times about these before. There have been discussions about new website blocking measures, around action that could be taken by ad networks, and about additional powers over search engines

We asked, through the Freedom of Information Act, for details about some of the more recent roundtables - one broadly about online infringement and the narrower roundtable about search engine regulation. We've now received the minutes of both, and the proposals written by search engines for how they can improve their work to tackle infringement.

It's worth noting that we did this through Freedom of Information requests, which isn't ideal.  It still seems like DCMS think that opening a retrospective window onto these discussions is a sufficient methodology for open policy making. However, from the minutes of the meetings, perhaps there is at least some recognition that things need to improve on that count - see below. Baby steps. When and if the Communications Green Paper is published, there needs to be a meaningful, proper consultation process. In the short term, these roundtables need a serious dose of transparence. 

These documents are at the least useful reading to tide us over until we know more about the Communications Green Paper, which may take forward some of the ideas from these discussions. For more on that, see our briefing on the Communications Green Paper. Below is a brief look at the released documents, with links to download the full minutes and proposal.

1. Roundtable about online infringement. 22nd February, 2012.

Download the minutes. The following people were present:

Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
Personal information - DCMS
Geoff Taylor - BPI
Lavinia Carey - FACT
Chris Marcich - MPAA
Gemma Hersch - Publishers Association
Bill Bush - Premier League
Theo Bertram - Google
Guy Philipson - Internet Advertising Bureau
Campbell Cowie - Ofcom
David Wheeldon - BSkyB
Mita Mitra - BT
Andrew Heaney - TalkTalk
Jon James - Virgin Media

(Worth saying that 'personal information' is not a name - it's the redacted name of a civil servant). First, once again it's hardly a broad spread of perspectives. There is no representation from civil society or consumer groups. Previously, Consumer Focus were attending these meetings. But no longer. They were the lone voice offering an alternate, consumer-based perspective. They can be a really important and valuable consumer voice on these issues too - for example, their intervention in the recent GoldenEye speculative invoicing case. It would be useful to know why they are no longer contributing to these meetings. 

On the other hand, there are some grudging nods towards the need to consider perspectives other than the industries involved. Point one on the minutes:

Everyone around the table agreed that the meeting note should be published along with a mission statement of what the roundtable was out to achieve.

Well, we got these via an FoI. After they said they would review the decision to publish initially because the information related to the formulation of government policy. That is the whole point of transparency regarding these meetings. Good, onging policy making would involve a proper, transparent and open process. To use an FoI Act as the means of pursuing this openness when there is an exemption for information relevant to the formulation of government policy is, therefore, not ideal.

As for the mission statement itself:

The OIC roundtable will meet regularly as a working group to check on progress that is being made both in the regulatory environment and in terms of industry-led initiatives to reduce the level and viability of online infringement of content. There will also be twice-yearly meetings involving others with an interest, such as consumer representatives and open rights organisations, and the note of the working meetings will be published on the DCMS website in a spirit of transparency.

Actual transparency and openness would be ideal, rather than their spirit. In most situations I would rather have the actual thing, rather than the 'notion' of that thing. Free and fair elections; accountability of those in public office; food. I can't find these documents elsewhere on the DCMS site as yet.

There are continuing discussions about the criteria for judging an infringing site in the context of ad networks trying to avoid advertising on them:

GP committed to holding a meeting with rights holders in February to ask them to consider the criteria for infringing sites. The issue of liability was briefly raised, and would be considered further by rights holders.
- EV asked for a timetable on the criteria for the DTSG. GP stated that the criteria needed to be agreed and the way in which the criteria were formed needed to remain transparent. EV agreed and asked for the formation of the criteria to be fast tracked. EV asked for an updated on the criteria at the next meeting.

The DTSG is the new Digital Trading Standards Group. Who exactly will make those decisions? What redress and recourse will there be when mistakes are made or the process is abused? Is it appropriate for industry bodies to be the sole arbiters of what services should be allowed to operate in a market? Will they be the people making those decisions? It's pointed out that the way the criteria is formed should be 'transparent'. Whether this will be spiritually transparent, or actually transparent, we will see. 

Assuming we are one of the 'open rights organisations' mentioned in the mission statement, we look forward to one of our twice-yearly updates.

2. Meeting on search engine regulation, 28th February

Download the minutes (.pdf), and the new proposal (.pdf). We blogged about previous proposals from rights holders for additional powers over search results. Search engines didn't like those much, so asked to write their own. This meeting was to discuss that proposal.

Attendees at the meeting:

Donna Whitehead – Microsoft
Theo Bertram – Google
Patrick Robinson – Yahoo
Richard Mollet – Publisher‟s Association
Bill Bush – Premier League
Geoff Taylor - BPI
Chris Marcich - MPAA
Ed Quilty – IPO
Sam Carter - Ofcom

The new proposal takes search engine prioritisations off the table, which we think is a good thing. That's really the crux of the issue. We think that external influences like this over rankings of results should only be permitted in exceptional circumstance, governmened by clear legal processes. It is interesting to see that Jeremy Hunt has taken a personal interest in search engine result prioritisation - as a note from the minutes revealing this action point:

"Search engines – to provide a short paper explaining their key concerns around prioritisation of search results (which EV emphasised the SOS does want to see proposals on)"

There should really be a proper consultation to test and examine such proposals properly. It is critical to note that DCMS have not laid out evidence or analysis or stated their position, meaning it is hard to know how they are judging what a good or proportionate or effective proposal looks like, or given others an opportunity to put their opinion and evidence forward.

The new proposal also encourages a broader dialogue and process, which is also welcome. We haven't analysed the new proposal in depth yet. Please leave your comments and notes on it below. 

Why do we care?

It's all very well banging on about openness and proper processes. But why do we care about what comes out of these proposals?

Funnily enough, it's not because we think everything should be free. Essentially, all these ideas amount to a big digital power carve up. The Communications Green Paper will help create a framework for the regulation of information on the Internet.  This will establish the way that decisions are taken about what content is or is not accessible to the UK public, who makes those decisions, and how they are enforced. The results will have enormous consequences for how the Internet works and in whose service it operates. 

A series of closed shop policy making roundtables, driven by unclear goals and reasoning through an opaque process, are unlikely to lead to proportionate, effective and balanced internet regulation. The results, added to proposals such as Claire Perry's broad, opt-in porn filters and casual ideas to block terrorism-related content, will not only undermine people's ability to access information freely here. It will critically undermine efforts to promote internet freedoms globally. This is about choosing who has the power to decide what we can access, look at, read and do online. 

 

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May 01, 2012 | Jim Killock

What they want is control

If you want to know how bad things are getting, look no further than the confused conversation on Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning.

If you want to know how bad things are getting, look no further than the confused conversation on Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning.

Claire Perry was asked to comment on the Pirate Bay blocking, as an advocate of the default blocking of pornography.

She drew parallels between her proposal for ISP network level filtering to prevent access to “pornography” and the new blocking order for Pirate Bay.

She claimed (1h40m) that the Internet needed to be ‘regulated’ like all other media.

“I think the time is coming when the Internet should not be treated differently from any other form of media. We don’t accept it with any other media, with telly, or mobile phones, or anything else. Why should the Internet be any different?”

The Internet is not a broadcast medium, but politicians want to treat as such. Politicians want to know who the broadcaster and  publishers are and then ask them to act in the perceived interests of a passive audience.

Fortunately, speech on the Internet is more like a village square or a pub than television. That gives us tremendous power, but it won’t stop politicians for looking for the off switch when they find something they don’t like.

This strange alliance between copyright lobbyists and people concerned about children accessing pornography, is potentially extremely toxic. They both speak to a desire to control, monitor and pre-vet communications.

Internet regulation is intense and highly sophisticated, including e-Commerce, e-Privacy, copyright and data protection. The new push is for control, to replace regulation. Touchy subjects including copyright and child protection are merely the tools by which to advocate and build the infrastructure of control. The aim is to take the decision about what you are allowed to see and do online out of your hands.

Will we let it happen? That’s up to you. Join Open Rights Group and get involved in the fight.

Three reasons censorship is pointless

1 You’ll almost certainly still be able to visit the website, without any additional software, simply by using an SSL link, like https://www.thepiratebay.se/

2 You no longer need a website to find shared bit-torrent files. You can use decentralized search tools, built into torrent clients, such as the EU-funded http://tribler.org

3 Most copyright industries seem to be doing quite well (books, films, games, software). The case hasn't been made that drastic censorship measures are needed.

Three reasons censorship is dangerous

 1 It places ISPs firmly in the role of censor. Now that a gatekeeping, censoring role is established in politicians’ minds, new duties will be added. We see this spreading from a tiny number of child abuse sites under the IWF, to a growing number of copyright infringement sites, to proposals for extremist sites and default supposedly-adult content blocks.

2 It reduces pressure to deal with the real problems. In the case of Pirate Bay, some copyright industries, have a problem. They think it is control of the market and product; we think it is their speed of innovation. Pushes for copyright enforcement continue to create an illusion that control can be obtained by force rather than consent. People will pay for content: but they need to be tempted, rather than cajoled and harassed.

3 It makes the Pirate Bay into heroes. Whether you think the Pirate Bay was a bold experiment, an irresponsible criminal act, or a distraction, censorship makes them look both genuinely threatening and victimized. Like it or not, study after study shows Pirate Bay users are also the highest paying music and film customers. Changing their behaviour needs a better strategy than censorship, which will push these customers further away from the music industry.

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April 25, 2012 | Javier Ruiz

UK new co-chair of the Open Government Partnership

Välisminister Urmas Paet Brasilias Avatud valitsemise partnerluse (Open Government Partnership, OGP) kõrgetasemelisel kohtumisel, 17. aprill 2012

In April 2012 representatives from 55 governments and hundreds of delegates from civil society gathered in Brazilia for the second annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership.

The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organisations.

Open Government Partnership

Each signatory country presents a National Action Plan, with list of commitments that it will be expected to fulfil in the following year. This is the list of the top ten commitments presented by countries in Brazilia.

At the 2012 annual meeting, the UK took on the co-chairing of the OGP for the next year. ORG has joined with other civil society organisations to form a coalition that will engage with the government to ensure that it fulfils its obligations and delivers on its commitments.

Our initial civil society analysis of the UK National Action Plan, can be found here. It was produced with contributions from Article 19, Campaign for Freedom of Information, Christian Aid, Global Witness, ONE, Open Rights Group, Publish What You Fund, Tiri and Transparency International UK.

These are the main issues we found:

  1. The UK government must improve its engagement with civil society including wider consultation and clear mechanisms for collaborative design and progress monitoring of the national action plan.

  2. The current national commitments are too focused on open data, information technology and public services and should be expanded to cover a comprehensive model of open governance.

  3. Internationally, the UK is a global leader on aid transparency. However, the UK must now address the transparency of natural resource revenues and international corporate transparency more broadly.

The paper can be directly downloaded here:

WORD - OGP UK Civil Society Perspectives

LIBREOFFICE - OGP UK Civil Society Perspectives

PDF - OGP UK Civil Society Perspectives

We have helped create a common web space for UK organisations at OpenGovernment.org.uk and we will be posting much of our work there as well as in our site.

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April 23, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

Open standards in government: one week to make it happen

The Government's consultation on committing to 'open standards' is coming under some intense lobbying. So it is really important that if you value open standards and wish to see the Government maintain its momentum towards openness, you respond to the consultation. Here's a short guide to how.

Update 2012-04-26: The deadline has now been extended to Monday, 4th June 2012.

The Government are currently deciding whether they should commit to 'open standards'. If they do, when they publish information or data to the public or share documents within governments, they would have to use formats that are not 'owned' by one particular vendor.

This will improve access and reuse of government information, reduce government dependency on particular companies, reduce the costs of procuring ICT in government, and help boost the market for software by driving a wider adoption of open standard formats.

Open standards are a vital ingredient of plans to open up the UK government. So far the government have made great strides towards committing to open standards, for which they should be applauded and supported.

But the proposals are under serious threat from some heavy lobbying by those businesses who deploy 'proprietary', or closed, standards. Some extraordinary pressure is being applied by vested interests who want to maintain the status quo and water down the proposals for a commitment to true open standards. Glyn Moody, for example, has been writing a series of articles about 'how Microsoft lobbied against true open standards'.

The only counterweight to this lobbying will be your voice. It's like this: if enough people that care about open standards tell the government why, now, then they might actually commit to truly open standards. But if people don't take this opportunity, then the government are more likely to water down their plans, and the opportunity will be missed.

So it is really important that if you value open standards, and you wish to see the Government maintain its momentum towards openness, you respond to the consultation. If they don't hear from us, then they won't have the democratic ammunition to commit to open standards.

  • Luckily enough, it is really easily to respond at the Cabinet Office website or by sending your response to this email address: openstandards@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk
  • Details, including the full proposals and the questions the Government is asking, are on the Cabinet Office website. The consultation document is available as a pdf too.
  • The deadline is Tuesday May 1st Monday June 4th. So have your say now!

What should I say? What's at stake?

If the Government wants to promote truly open government, boosting transparency, innovation around public services, and the IT market, then it is critical they commit to truly open standards. Without this commitment, the government will be clipping the wings of their openness agenda.

If you've not submitted to a government consultation before, don't worry, it's very simple. Just write down your opinion as clearly and simply as you can. Writing short answers is helpful - they will get a lot of responses so it's easier for them if they don't have to go through thousands and thousands of pages! And you don't have to answer all of the questions.

You should answer in your own words, of course. If you have evidence of the effects of open standards, or the lack of them, that is likely to be especially helpful.

Here are some points covering what we think are some of the key issues, in case it helps.

Open standards are a vital part of open government

The Government plans to publish more 'public data' than before under plans to promote transparency and improve engagement in and innovation around public services. This is part of a concerted drive towards more 'open government'.  

An important part of that is ensuring that the information released is in a format that is usable as widely as possible.

Open Standards are a publicly documented common language that computer programs can speak. They are critical to interoperability and freedom of choice in technology. So committing to open standards means that information the Government releases to the public is not locked in to a particular platform, can be used or read more widely, and will likely be easier to archive and read in the future.

Committing to truly open standards

The definition of an open standard in the consultation is good as it stands. But there are questions in the consultation about adopting licensing terms using what is called 'FRAND'. This should be treated with some caution - there are important concerns about the adoption of 'FRAND' as a model for the Government's commitment to open standards, and for dealing with those who have patents or copyright in some components of the software in question.

The acronym stands for Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory. It can refer to the terms attached to the use of elements within a standard that are covered by other people's patents, for example.

The terms 'fair' and 'reasonable' and 'non-discriminatory' sound pleasant enough. But there is no strict legal definition of FRAND, and the owner of a patent can set the terms. And these will be set by companies who may attach conditions that still have the effect of disadvantaging rivals. It could chill development and restrict the market if it creates uncertainty, and can rule out some free software providers where there is a royalty requirement.

Open standards that are not bound by these requirements, and which don't make development and use dependent on third parties in this way - specifically, for example, 'royalty-free' standards - are far preferable.

'FRAND' gives patent owners too much power to determine the evolution and use of the standard. It can be a way for existing market dominant players to retain leverage in the provision of services. We agree with Simon Phipps, who says in an article on ComputerWorld (he calls FRAND, 'RAND'):

RAND policy allows patent holders to decide whether they want to discourage the use of open source. Leaving that capability in the hands of some (usually well-resourced) suppliers seems unwise…

These questions are really at the heart of the consultation. What kind of open standards should the government commit to, and consider acceptable? 

Supporting the market, not the businesses in it

Open standards will unlock the technology market, shifting procurement from a reliance on de facto standards to true choice and competitiveness. It will mean that the government can choose from a broader range of providers and won't suffer from 'lock in' with legacy providers. 

If you support open standards and want to see the government commit to them, please add your voice to this vital consultation. It will make a difference. 

How do I learn more?

There are plenty of informative articles to read to help you learn more. 

If you come across other useful information, evidence or analysis, do add them in the comments below!

 

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April 16, 2012 | Jim Killock

ACTA Edinburgh: David Martin's views

Last Friday, David Martin MEP organised a seminar on ACTA in the EU Parliament's Edinburgh offices. He invited ORG to speak, alongside Susie Winter of the Alliance Against IP Theft Infringement, a chair from the EU Commission,  and about 20 people attended the meeting.

Martin is the rapporteur for the lead EU Parliamentary committee for ACTA, International Trade. His views matter a lot, which is why his decision to recommend a no vote is highly significant.

David Martin's starting point is strongly pro-IP. He accepts that the EU must make money through monetising “our brains” through IP, and that ACTA's aims are laudable.

Martin is a ‘multilateralist’; that is he believes that trade negotiations should involve every country with an interest. ACTA in contrast is a treaty written by a small number of mostly developed and pro-IP nations. He said that he feels that ACTA may push the BRIC (Brazil, India, China) countries into a corner, and organisations like WIPO and the WTO are better places for negotiating global IP standards.

He observed that ACTA conflates approaches to tangible and non-tangible goods, which is rather like confusing “apples and pears”.

He added that ACTA is being pushed by proponents as a serious means to reduce IP infringement, yet is also billed by them as having no legislative effect in the EU. Both cannot be true.

Furthermore, much of the change expected from ACTA seems to be about practice by customs and by ISPs, and Martin said that he felt that this did not need a treaty to achieve these results.

He recognised that Trade Mark violations for drugs could pull in legitimate trade into border disputes and cause problems for access to medicines; and also that deliberately similar trade marks are used between competing generic drugs purely to help correct usage. Simply put, a doctor or nurse needs to understand that the two drugs are the same, and similar names helps make sure of this.

Martin also said that he recognises the concerns around ISPs being pushed into a policing role.

Overall, he said that he felt that the overall effect of ACTA was on the “direction of travel” and in creating “mood music” rather than substance, although ACTA suffers also from a lack of detail which makes it hard to know the real consequences.

He said some of the decisions needed should be democratically debated, rather than decided by treaty, for instance around ISPs roles, which he felt might need to change.

Some of the rights holders at the meeting made the point that a defeat to ACTA would "embolden" the "anti-IP" lobby, especially after SOPA and PIPA. They claimed that a defeat for ACTA might endanger more reasonable proposals in the future.

Such a claim is audacious and extraordinary. For a lobby to substantially write a treaty; to misjudge the societal impacts and political consequences of the agenda that ACTA, SOPA / PIPA and the DEAct promote; and then to say the answer is to press on regardless is deeply irresponsible.

As your grandmother probably used to tell you: when in a hole, stop digging.

But the IP lobby’s keep digging approach shows how how fixed their views are, and how hard they will fight to cling to their strategy.

The final EU Parliamentary vote is likely to be very close, and take place in June or July. There are demonstrations planned across Europe on 9 June. Make sure your views are heard!

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April 10, 2012 | Richard King

How to set up a Local Group

I attended the local-groups session at ORGCon a few weekends ago. I made a few notes. Then I set up a local ORG group in Sheffield. We had our first meeting on Monday.

If I can do this in a week you can do it in your area too. If you’re into digital rights, and you want to meet up with others to discuss the pressing issues of the day, why not start your own branch of the Open Rights Group?

Here’s what we did:

  • Choose how to communicate. We took ORG’s advice and set up shop on meetup.com, which is a paid-for service but with the advantage of being an integrated solution, however there are many other tools you can use to organise yourselves. The trick is to pick one and stick with it.
  • Promote the group. We did this before deciding on topics or scheduling our first meeting so that people could express general interest without committing to anything. This encouraged participation. We started off with a post to the org-discuss mailing list and by spreading the word on Twitter, IndyMedia and Postcode Gazette.
  • Gather your group’s preferences. We asked everyone two questions when they signed up: when can you meet and what would you like to discuss?
  • Arrange a venue. We chose a dedicated community meeting-space rather than a pub, as this allows us access to wifi, a projector and a bit of quiet in which to hold our discussions. It’s also more inclusive of people who don’t drink alcohol. We won’t be forgetting the social side though – there’s a good pub close by and I’m sure the discussion will spill out into it afterwards!
  • Meet! Our first meeting will be an opportunity to meet each other, discuss what we consider to be on topic, share the issues we’re passionate about and sort out the arrangements for subsequent meetings.

For future meet-ups the plan is to take what’s worked well for the London group and mix that up with the GIST foundation‘s wealth of experience running myriad special-interest tech-groups in Sheffield.

Each meeting will have a specific topic. One of us will present a short introduction and the rest of the time will then be given over to discussion. We’ll also be mixing in some practical sessions and we’ll invite local experts to give talks whenever we can.

We’re getting some support from ORG too. They’ll be promoting our group to local sympathisers using their mailing lists and they may also be able to send us interesting speakers occasionally.

During each meeting we’ll aim to come up with a list of practical actions for people to take afterwards (if they want to) such as signing a petition, writing to their MP or attending a protest. We’ll be reporting back to the community after every session so that others can read about what we think and share their own views. When other groups get going nearby we’ll go to their meetings and invite them to ours.

If you’re one of the many ORG supporters who wishes they’d get out of London and do more in your area what better way to make this happen than to kick off a local group? It’s really easy and you could find there’s a community of like-minded activists right on your doorstep. So what are you waiting for?

Richard King has been an Open Rights Group evangelist, copy-writer, editor, newsblogger and wiki maintainer. He is running for Board Elections this year. This piece is from Richard's blog.

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April 03, 2012 | Jim Killock

Surveillance plans: key questions

ORG has been following the CCDP plans for two years, as they have crept up through policy papers, government statements and budget plans. Consistently, but ineffectively, the government has tried to deny that the plans are problematic.

However, we do believe the plans may be changing in significant ways. There is a probable shift to asking Internet service companies like Google for swift access, rather than collecting all of the data through ISPs.

Let’s examine some of the key questions. (See PI's blog and FAQ as well)

1 Lack of warrants for communications data

Communications data in the UK is produced through authorized requests by trained police officers. No judge, court or warrant is required. Traditionally, the claim has been that “communications data” is pretty trivial. But as more and more data amasses, it is actually very intrusive and highly revealing.

Don’t be fooled. The current system of simple police self-authorized requests is very poor, and new access to more data demands higher safeguards: that is, going through a court.

2 “We’re just maintaining capacity”

This is the extraordinary claim that the security services are making. That much more of our lives are online, that this information maps our whole histories and social lives, that this is different from a record of phone call we made seems to be evading the security services.

Requests for communications data now represents a very high level of surveillance, and as such should be governed by courts, not the police, and certainly should not be available through automated systems.

3 Will the government go to Facebook and Google directly, in “real time”?

Increasingly, it seems that the plans are changing, so that the government will go to the companies to get the data from them, maybe in “real time”. Thus, with even lower barriers, huge amounts of data could be given to police from extremely detailed social maps that we have voluntarily created.

In the USA, Google and Facebook are campaigning for much tighter controls than the judicial authorizations that are already required. Do their UK customers really deserve less protection?

4 What about encryption?

Nobody yet has suggested that the government breaks encryption to read the communications data they claim to want access to. Yet that is the logic of the path they are suggesting, especially as sites will be very keen to encrypt if the government is reading the traffic. Encryption is a vital tool for commerce and business

5 Will it work?

Nobody really seems to think it will work. The need to investigate real offences of course could be dealt with through the courts. But gathering masses of data, or making it extremely accessible, seems to introduce risks without real benefits.

6 What about trust? And the economy?

The priority of this government is economic growth. The Internet economy is actually growing. Yet it depends on trust. Declaring a surveillance culture to be integral to the Internet will keep people away from the Internet and undermine our trust. if the government seeks to break encryption, this will be even more dangerous, as banking and other information could be made vulnerable.

But even more than that, the £2bn price tag, which will almost certainly prove to be too little, is money that will not contribute to economic growth. Investing in mass surveillance tools will not deliver growth, and will not tackle crime.

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