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July 24, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Government to consult on legislation to curb illicit filesharing as industry agrees voluntary scheme

Only 3 months late, the Government has finally released a consultation into potential legislation aimed at curbing illicit filesharing on the net. Several of the legislative options on the table are worrying, and mirror schemes being discussed in various national and international fora. They include streamlining the legal process to require ISPs to provide personal data relating to an IP address, handing responsibility for taking action against illicit filesharers to a third party body, or requiring ISPs to take action against users themselves or to install filtering equipment to block infringing content.

At the same time, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) have also announced a “landmark industry agreement” to address unlawful filesharing, signed by the UK’s six major ISPs - Virgin Media, Sky, Carphone Warehouse, BT, Orange and Tiscali - as well as the British Phonographic Industry and the Motion Picture Association.

This “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU), negotiated behind-the-scenes with strong influence from the Government, is appended to the consultation (Annex D). Its stated objective is to achieve a significant reduction in illicit filesharing and a change in popular attitudes towards copyright infringement, within 2 to 3 years.

Signatories endorse five principles in the MoU:

  1. That a joint industry solution is the best way forward
  2. That they will work together to educate consumers about why illicit filesharing is wrong
  3. That making content available in a wide range of user-friendly formats is important
  4. That they will engage in a 3 month trial to send letters to 1,000 subscribers per week suspected of downloading or uploading unlicensed, copyrighted material
  5. That they will work with OfCom to identify effective measures to deal with repeat offenders

A BERR press release out this morning describes how the MoU and legislation arising from the consultation will work together:

“The approach will pilot letters to be sent to the registered user of an internet account when their account has been identified as having been used to unlawfully share copyrighted material. The letters could point consumers to other sources of material available legally and in a variety of formats.

“ISPs and rights holders will produce a Code of Practice together on how they will deal with alleged repeat infringers. Government will consult to give this Code legislative underpinning.

“Ofcom will facilitate discussion between the parties and approve the final Code of Practice. Ofcom will also ensure that the self-regulatory mechanism is effective, proportionate and fair to consumers.”

For dealing with repeat infringers, the MoU mentions “technical measures such as traffic management or filtering, and marking of content to facilitate its identification”. Although there is no mention of disconnecting users, such a course of action is not ruled out. More worryingly, negotiations around the code of practice to deal with repeat infringers will not involve direct consumer participation, relying instead on Ofcom to ensure consumers get a fair deal.

As the Open Rights Group has set out exhaustively on this site and in the media (also see our appearance on Channel 4 News below), disconnection is not a good option – either for internet users or for the artists whose livelihoods are harmed by illicit filesharing. Not only is the punishment disproportionate to the crime, in most households, an internet connection is shared by a number of people. What’s more, as soon as law enforcers start snooping for IP addresses to pass on to ISPs for disconnection, hardcore filesharers will simply start using encryption and IP-masking to obfuscate their identities. Then they’ll develop software that makes it easy for non-technical people to do the same. Driving illicit filesharers further underground isn’t going to earn artists a penny, and will further irritate their fans.

Instead, offering consumers legal, attractive and competitive alternatives to illicit filesharing is the vital component in any programme to curb illicit filesharing. The MoU mentions that such alternatives might include subscription, on demand or sharing services. But unlike with the proposed enforcement measures, no timetable for providing legal alternatives is mandated. In this way, today’s announcement has its priorities wrong – preferring criminalising consumers over catering to them.

ORG will be responding in detail to BERR’s 60+ page consultation on a legislative approach over the coming weeks. The consultation will be up on our interactive consultation tool soon – and you’ll be able to help us respond by leaving your views. The consultation closes on 30 October 2008.

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Copyright extension: what you can do.

In a letter to the Times today Europe's leading professionals in the field of intellectual property have explained why the proposal for copyright term extension would harm Europe's creators and consumers:

The simple truth is that copyright extension benefits most those who already hold rights. It benefits incumbent holders of major back-catalogues, be they record companies, ageing rock stars or, increasingly, artists’ estates. It does nothing for innovation and creativity. The proposed Term Extension Directive undermines the credibility of the copyright system. It will further alienate a younger generation that, justifiably, fails to see a principled basis.

Many of us sympathise with the financial difficulties that aspiring performers face. However, measures to benefit performers would look rather different. They would target unreasonably exploitative contracts during the existing term, and evaluate remuneration during the performer’s lifetime, not 95 years.

Following on from last week's EU Commission announcement, they haven't been alone in voicing their concern. Fortunately, the battle isn't lost. You can help campaign for a rational copyright policy in three ways.

How you can help 1:

The UK Intellectual Property Office, the government body charged with ensuring balance and fairness in intellectual property, has asked the public and all those with an interest to make sure their voices are heard, and contact the UK-IPO by the end of August. Remember, always be polite and considerate when explaining why term extension concerns you. You can find out which government body in your country is responsible for intellectual property policy here.

How you can help 2:

We've loaded in the full texts of the proposal and the relevant impact assessment. Help us challenge the arguments and point out evidence that disproves their claims. You can leave your comments using our collaborative annotation tool.

How you can help 3:

We need more people to show their support. More than 12,500 people have signed our petition, so tell your friends and help us spread the word across Europe so that you can be heard in Brussels: http://www.soundcopyright.eu/petition.


"Grammophone" gratefully licensed from Nils Pickert.

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July 18, 2008 | Jason Kitcat

London Assembly Elections Review Committee - who would want to steal an election?

Yesterday the Greater London Authority's Elections Review Committee met to discuss the conduct of the May 2008 London elections. The ORG 2008 Elections Report played an important role in their agenda and it was great to see it attached to the papers sent to all members.

First up were representatives from Indra (the e-counting supplier) and election officials from London Elects, Greater London's Returning Officer and two Constituency Returning Officers. A number of good, challenging questions based on ORG's findings were directed at those present, but the responses were often less than satisfactory, resorting to assurances (because proof of the election's validity couldn't be provided). Members of the committee, being London Assembly members, were in the strange position of having to question whether their own election was valid. So their was little incentive to push hard for answers, with the exception of Andrew Boff (Con) who as a former systems analyst understood the severity of the problems and risks involved in e-counted elections.

Mr Mayer, Greater London's Returning Officer for the election, at one point suggested that the way to deal with the burden of staffing for such elections was for more e-counting and e-voting and he seemed to regret that there wouldn't be e-voting for the 2009 European Elections. Thankfully he also admitted that the Electoral Commission had made clear they didn't support such moves and indeed would have opposed e-counting in the 2008 London elections if London Elects hadn't already been so far down the line in their preparations.

On asking Indra whether the error messages ORG had observed risked the integrity of the election, Indra responded that these were isolated 'glitches' but that they had absolute confidence in the declared results, a view supported by Mr Mayer. Andrew Boff was prevented by the chair, Brian Coleman (Con), from pursuing this weak response further.

Imagine a caterer was contracted to provide 9 million hot meals and of these some went wrong. Imagine that a few thousand people got sick from eating these meals, a few hundred seriously so. Would explaining these as 'kitchen glitches' be satisfactory? Or would we want to understand if the procedures for ordering, checking and handling ingredients had been satisfactory? Would we check for the qualifications and training of cooks, perhaps also looking at the audit trail for the ordering of the goods?

No such scrutiny was levelled at Indra nor London Elections. Indeed the committee seemed uncomfortable challenging the results, but happier expressing displeasure over delays or other administrative matters which, while of importance, hadn't risked the accuracy of the result. Furthermore several attempts were made to imply ORG's report was the work of well intentioned amateurs, perhaps not worth taking seriously.

On ORG's behalf I then came before the committee to discuss our findings. I began by explaining my ten years of experience in the field and why I was qualified to discuss this election. Some committee members visibly raised eyebrows on hearing my brief resume. Perhaps they assumed I was a geek without knowledge of elections.

However on trying to address some of the weak or ridiculous responses from the previous participants (Indra in particular) the Committee balked at my comments. Again with the exception of Mr Boff they were incredulous of our findings, in particular challenging our maths over the maximum number of possibly unaccounted-for ballots.

The Chair claimed electoral fraud wasn't an issue in the UK, to which I responded that candidates from all three major political parties have been convicted of electoral fraud in the last 10 years. Still Mr Coleman refused to accept that there were people with sufficient interest and capability to commit electoral fraud in the London elections. My presence was soon no longer desired and the meeting swiftly ended.

Fundamentally the problem for the committee members, Indra and London Elects was they wanted to believe the election was correct. They couldn't prove it was though and neither could we. Instead of asking for decent evidence of a proper election (such as audit trails, manual sample recounts and so on) they chose to focus on whether ORG could prove our concerns. I don't believe it is for ORG to do that. Our report raised reasonable doubt over the integrity of the election due to issues with the software, ballot box security, ballot paper counts and more. It is for London Elections and their contractors to now prove to a reasonable level of assurance that those issues didn't affect the result of the election. As I tried to say yesterday, if they are so confident in the result, why not do a manual recount of samples at least? What are they scared of finding?

You can watch the whole session here (Windows Media only I'm afraid).

Read more about the Committee and download the agenda papers for the meeting here.

You can read ORG's report of the 2008 London elections here.

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EU Commission proposes copyright term extension and ignores all the evidence

Disregarding the evidence-based findings of their own advisors, the UK government's independent analysis, and those of Europe's leading intellectual property research centres, the EU Commission has formally accepted DG Internal Market's proposal to extend the duration of copyright protection for sound recordings.

Copyright term is a quid pro quo, designed to balance the interests of consumers and creators. Confusing this with contractual issues and pension schemes while ignoring the evidence gives Europeans a raw deal. Europe's citizens are entitled to more than a privatised cultural heritage. Recent evidence such as DG Internal Market's own review of the Database Directive 2005, has confirmed that granting further intellectual property rights without a proper basis delivers no real benefit to the competitiveness of the EU.

While granting unending intellectual property rights may sound good, a fair and balanced approach means that legislators must avoid dismissing economic rationale and the traps of faith based policy and voodoo economics that simply grant IP rightsholders requests for more. Adhering to the same standards that environmental and pharmaceutical regulation are held to is essential, because the significant losers will not simply be consumers, but also voters.

Following its adoption the proposal will proceed to the Council of Ministers and to the European Parliament. Please show your support and sign our petition as we continue to oppose term extension.

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July 11, 2008 | Glyn Wintle

Data Sharing Review

The Data Sharing Review, commissioned by the Prime Minister last October to look at the use and sharing of personal information in the public and private sectors, published its final report today. The report argues that data sharing is shrouded in confusion and spotlights deficiencies in the organisational culture of those who collect, manage and share personal information. Its authors call for personal data to be handled, like any valuable asset, with respect.

We attended workshops with the reports authors and drafted a submission emphasising the risks rather than the benefits associate with data sharing. In the conclusion to our submission, we said, "If customers were to participate fully in the design and decision-making of the public services intended to benefit them it seems to us very unlikely they would come up with the centralised databases and data sharing approach of Transformational Government."

The report is 80 pages long (ignoring the annexes, all 112 pages of them) so if you don't have time to read it all, here are some points of interest.

The report neglects to make specific recommendations on any of the current or future large government databases. This is deeply regrettable as a missed opportunity to encourage respect for personal data and greater trust in the public and private bodies who store our data. Even if all the recommendations are followed, the impact of this report will be minor: a toothless regulator will gain some powers, medical research will become easier, and sale of the edited electoral register will be prohibited.

Based on the evidence we have collected and analysed, we believe change is necessary to transform the culture that influences how personal information is viewed and handled; to clarify and simplify the legal framework governing data sharing; to enhance the effectiveness of the regulatory body that polices data sharing; to assist important work in the field of research and statistical analysis; and to help safeguard and protect personal information held in publicly available sources.

Data Sharing Review Report Page 7

No recommendations about any of the massive government databases

During the course of our review, many people made comment about specific Government initiatives involving the wider use of personal information, including proposals for a national identity card and the related national identity register, and about ContactPoint. Our task however was not to look at specific projects but to review the general principles governing the use and sharing of personal information. For this reason, we make no recommendations about individual data-sharing schemes.

Data Sharing Review Report Page 14

That the review ignores projects like the National Identity Register, ContactPoint, NHS Spine, which are planned to collate personal data on the entire population and represent a major concerns for many of those who responded to the consultation, is shameful. Our response to the Data Sharing Review noted that: "Large databases which need to grant access to many hundreds of users will inevitably fail along one of three axes - scale, functionality or security."

Enhancing the effectiveness of the the regulator

A strong regulator is also needed to facilitate these cultural improvements. It is essential that the regulator has sufficiently robust powers and sanctions available to it; and that it is resourced adequately. We welcome recent changes in the law to provide the Information Commissioner with a power to impose financial penalties for wilful and reckless breach of the data protection principles and call on the Government to implement these changes quickly. We also believe that stronger inspection and audit powers are required and that new funding arrangements to enable effective enforcement are long overdue. We also recommend an important change in the nature of the office of the Information Commissioner in order to improve the provision of guidance and the regulatory oversight of the handling and sharing of personal information. We recommend that a Commission with a supporting executive team replace the single Information Commissioner.

Data Sharing Review Report Page 3

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is widely seen as "a toothless tiger", because it lacks resources and enforcement powers, amongst other reasons. The Data Protection Act should include stronger penalties and sanctions, and the ICO should be given increased powers and resources to more effectively carry out his duties.

Recommendation 9: The regulations under section 55A of the Data Protection Act setting out the maximum level of penalties should mirror the existing sanctions available to the Financial Services Authority, setting high, but proportionate, maxima related to turnover.

Data Sharing Review Report

One reason why the Data Protection Act is not taken seriously in businesses, at Board level, is its lack of sanctions. Section 55A of the Data Protection Act provides a new fine for data controllers who recklessly or repeatedly allow significant data breaches. This new power was created during the course of the review and this recommendation hopes to increase the maximum fine.

To date prosecutions brought under the any part of section 55 have generally resulted in low penalties. Between November 2002 and January 2006, only two out of 22 cases ended with fines above £5,000. Other investigations led to frustrating outcomes, despite the harm caused to individuals and public confidence more generally. Since 2006 there have been two further successful prosecutions and a further individual cautioned, resulting in fines ranging between £3,300 and £4,200. This is pocket change to many businesses and does not present a significant deterrent, so we welcome the recommendation to increase maximum fines.

Recommendation 10: We also call on the Government to bring these provisions fully into force within six months of Royal Assent of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act, that is, by 8 November 2008.

Data Sharing Review Report

This is a welcome call on Government to hurry up. We also cover this in more detail later under the heading Time table please.

Recommendation 12: We recommend that the Information Commissioner should have a statutory power to gain entry to relevant premises to carry out an inspection, with a corresponding duty on the organisation to co-operate and supply any necessary information. Where entry or co-operation is refused, the Commissioner should be required to seek a court order.

Data Sharing Review Report

There is wide support for the Information Commissioner to be given powers to carry out audits and inspections unannounced. The simple threat of a court order should be enough in most cases to allow voluntary access. That an individual or organisation has the right to review via court of law provides an important safeguard against bureaucratic abuse. The wording of law will require carefully review, but the concept is good.

Recommendation 13: We therefore recommend that changes are made to the notification fee through the introduction of a multi-tiered system to ensure that the regulator receives a significantly higher level of funding to carry out his statutory data-protection duties.

Data Sharing Review Report

The ICO lack the resources to promote, let alone enforce, proper information management practices. Greater funding may to make the ICO slightly more effective. The review seeks to secure increased funding by levying a higher annual charge on the small percentage of organisations that hold data on millions of people. The figure for most data controllers will remain at £35.00 per year. In reality this will at most double their budget, and so business's will still know the odds of being caught are extremely low.

Recommendation 8(a): Where there is a genuine case for removing or modifying an existing legal barrier to data sharing, a new statutory fast-track procedure should be created. Primary legislation should provide the Secretary of State, in precisely defined circumstances, with a power by Order, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses, to remove or modify any legal barrier to data sharing by:

  • repealing or amending other primary legislation;
  • changing any other rule of law (for example, the application of the common law of confidentiality to defined circumstances); or
  • creating a new power to share information where that power is currently absent.

Recommendation 8(b): Before the Secretary of State lays any draft Order before each House of Parliament, it should be necessary to obtain an opinion from the Information Commissioner as to the compatibility of the proposed sharing arrangement with data protection requirements.

Data Sharing Review Report

This is a bad recommendation. It weakens safety checks and removes powers from parliament, in exchange for giving the Information Commissioner the power to state an opinion. This opinion in practice can be ignored if the minister wants to.

Developing a culture of respect for personnel data

Recommendations 1 to 5 are rather woolly and will have little concrete effect. They recommend training for staff handling personnel data, knowing what personnel data you hold, what you do with it and what the controls are, etc. Recommendation 5 is the closest to a nod in the right direction, but even here its worth pointing out that most organisations do not need to authenticate you, many interactions can be done anonymously.

Research and statistical analysis

Recommendations 15, 16 and 17 cover research and statistical analyses of personal data, for example, wherever possible, such data should be anonymised. The review team evidently received complaints from researchers because the report tries to make life easier for medical researchers. We note that legal barriers to information sharing are generally in place for good reasons, for example preventing incidents like HMRC losing vast amount of data. The second data protection principle states "Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes." Data Protection Act 1998

Enquiry into online aggregation of personal information

Recommendation 18: We recommend that the government should commission a specific enquiry into online services that aggregate personal information, considering their scope, their implications and their regulation.

Data Sharing Review Report

This is an enquiry that ORG will keep an eye on. It mentions social networking sites but we cannot comment further without more detail.

Time table please

We strongly commend these recommendations to the Government and we look forward to a timely response. In particular we would like the Government, as part of its response, to set out a clear timetable for implementation and to report on progress in eighteen months time.

Data Sharing Review Report Page 10

P.S. It would be nice if the Government, as part of its response to this review, established a clear timetable for implementation so we do not end up one year from now asking "where are our reforms?"

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July 07, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Growing the ORG community - and having fun doing it

Update: We've had quite literally tens of new supporters sign up to support ORG in the last week or so. Please keep telling your mates about Open Rights and why our issues deserve their support. Here's a recording from Open Tech, where Becky and Danny launched the ORG-GRO campaign.

Or if you want to download the MP3 ORG-GRO.mp3

ORG needs your help. Over the next five months, we want to do something really ambitious.

Not explain to MPs and record companies why DRM was a dead-end technology (done that). Not marshall a team of election observers to uncover e-voting bungling that could have swayed an election, and put electronic voting on the back-burner for years (tick). Not singlehandedly beat back the music industry's lobbying for copyright term extension in the UK (yawn, done it). Not even make sure Britain was safe for knitted Dr Who monsters everywhere (well, you get the idea).

No, what we want to do is *everything else* on our ever-growing list of digital rights fights. And to do that we need you. And your money.

And the money of all of your friends.

By December of this year, we intend to double the amount of financial support we receive directly from individuals who are concerned about the erosion of civil liberties in the digital age.

Why? Because we want ORG sustainable with money from individuals' donations. After all, we're here to protect individual rights for all tech users. And we think the best way to do that is through the direct advice and support of smart, well-informed individuals.

That's why, in 2005, ORG started with nothing more than 1,000 people pledging to give £5/month to fund a UK digital rights organisation.

Today, we receive the equivalent of roughly 750 of those fivers from ORG supporters (that's accounting for the fact that some folk give more than £5, while some chose to pay at our concessionary rate of £2.50/month). By 1 December 2008, we want that figure to be 1,500. But we won't be able to do that unless everybody gets involved and makes this happen. Here's how:

If you already support the Open Rights Group:

  • Get as many of your friends to join as you can. If every ORG supporter recruited just one of their friends, we'd reach our target. We're not beneath bribery, here: if you recruit three friends or more, we'll send you a glamorous ORG T-Shirt.
  • Double your support for ORG. If none of your friends care about digital rights, make an investment in their future now and they'll be sure to thank you later. If you double (or more!) your support to ORG, let us know and we’ll send you a special gift.
  • Do all of the above and do more. Get creative. Run a mini-ORG fundraising campaign on your blog. Approach strangers on the street. Knock on your neighbour's door. Sign up on behalf of your pets. If you've got an idea of how to enlist more people to the ORG community – go for it. If you need our help, get in touch.

If you're not already supporting the Open Rights Group

  • Start. Now. Then do all of the things we've just listed above.

1,500 regular supporters are enough to make ORG sustainable into the foreseeable future. We're not being greedy – we'll make every penny we receive from the Open Rights Group community count. To see what we'll spend your money on, click here.

This year and last we've received grants from organisations like JRRT Ltd and the Open Society Institute – for which we're very grateful. But ORG's heart lies with the views of its independent membership, and being funded direct by our community means we can represent your concerns 100%.

Over the coming months, we'll be announcing more initiatives and happenings that we think will help us reach that magic number.

And if we make it to 1,500 by December 2008, we'll throw a big party for everyone who helped us get there (note to self: do not spend all of new income on this party).

Databases that log where you go, what you buy and who you talk to and pass it on to state snoopers. Electronic elections that rob you of your right to vote. Constricted copyright laws that mean you can't even post your holiday snaps online. Every day, your digital rights are under threat. Supporting the Open Rights Group won't make it all go away, it won't mean we stop asking you to do stuff. It won't help you become even smarter and glamorous than you are now[1]. But joining the ORG community will ensure that in the corridors of Westminster, the warrens of Brussels, in the national and international media, and for years into the future that you know so well, and even now are helping to craft, your voice gets heard.

[1] Because that would be impossible.

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Write to your MEP: say no to "3 strikes" through the backdoor

Could Europe be drafting a new law to disconnect suspected filesharers from the internet? MEPs have already signalled their condemnation of this approach. But last-minute amendments to telecommunications legislation could bring the so-called "3 strikes" approach in by the backdoor. If you want your MEP to stick to their guns on 3 strikes, write to them today to voice your concerns.

Back in February, we reported that the UK Government was considering a law to ban illicit filesharers from the 'net. A promised consultation on proposed legislation is yet to materialise (although we're still hoping it will appear before the Summer recess). Meanwhile, pressure on ISPs and rightsholders to come to a voluntary arrangement has had some effect, with both Virgin and BT recently starting to "educate" those customers they believe are infringing copyright in their use of p2p networks.

As we pointed out at the time, neither the voluntary nor the statutory approach will put a penny in artists' pockets unless accompanied by viable legal alternatives that deliver consumers what they want. A recent survey commissioned by British Music Rights [pdf] indicates that 80% of those currently downloading music would pay for so-called "legal p2p" - properly licensed and competitive filesharing alternatives. Rumours that industry is close to developing such an offer are yet to be confirmed. But without it, any enforcement move is likely only to drive illicit filesharing further underground.

Over in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy (who also took over the European presidency yesterday) has put his weight behind legislation proposed by the Olivennes report. The bill, which has been delayed until the Autumn, will mandate termination of internet connections. It goes without saying that it is the subject of much controversy across the Channel.

La Quadrature du Net - a French pressure group - have been actively campaigning on the issue. They're also tracking the progress of the Telecoms Package, a review of European telecoms law currently in the European Parliament. Ordinarily this bill would deal with network infrastructure, universal service and other purely telecoms matters.

But as La Quadrature du Net announced yesterday:

"One week before a key vote in the reform of European law on electronic communications ("Telecom Package"), La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net) denounces a series of amendments aimed at closing the open architecture of the Internet for more control and surveillance of users..

…this set of amendments creates the unprecedented mechanism known as graduated response in European law; judicial authority and law courts are vacated in favour of private actors and "technical measures" of surveillance and filtering. According to rules set forth by administrative authorities and rights holders, intermediaries will be forced to cooperate in monitoring and filtering their subscribers, or they will be exposed to administrative sanctions"

If you want to voice your concerns about 3 strikes legislation brought in through the backdoor in Brussels, you have until 7 July, the date of the vote in IMCO and ITRE committees, to contact your MEP and inform them that the "Telecoms Package" amendments could bring in disproportionate and ineffective law.

You can find details of your MEPs here. Suggestions for topics to raise in your letters are here and analysis and commented amendments with other resources about the Telecoms Package are also available.

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July 02, 2008 | Becky Hogge

ORG verdict on London Elections: "Insufficient evidence" to declare confidence in results

Update:: Demand for the report is pretty high: for those having trouble downloading the report, we've put a copy of the report here too.


ORG's report into e-counting of votes cast in the London Elections is out today. The report, which is the result of a huge team effort, finds that:

"there is insufficient evidence available to allow independent observers to state reliably whether the results declared in the May 2008 elections for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly are an accurate representation of voters’ intentions."

Votes for London Mayor and the 25 member London Assembly were counted electronically, and overall the election was well-managed by the independent body set up to run elections in London, London Elects.

However, transparency around the recording of valid votes was a major issue, leading many of our team of 27 official observers to conclude that they were unable to observe votes being counted. And while hundreds of screens set up by vote scanners showed almost meaningless data to observers, London Elects admit that the system was likely to be recording blank ballots as valid votes.

The report also details how London Elects are unable to publish an audit, commissioned from KPMG, of some of the software used to count the London vote, because of disputes over commercial confidentiality. The situation highlights the problems that arise when the very public function of running elections is mixed with issues of commercial confidentiality and proprietary software. In the context of a public election, it is unacceptable that these issues should preclude the publication of the KPMG audit.

London Elects will pay Indra – the company who supplied both Bedford and Breckland during last year's chaotic trials of e-counting technology in local elections – upwards of £4.5 million for delivering the London e-count. Today's report recommends a full cost benefit analysis of any future e-count, set against a properly costed manual count.

This cost-benefit analysis should include our report's five recommendations for improved transparency around the recording of valid votes in e-counting systems. The problems around transparency observed by the ORG team can be solved, but it is important to ask: at what cost? There comes a time when electoral administrators need to ask themselves whether electronic counting really delivers value for money to our democracy.

Huge thanks go out to all the observers who put in hard work and long hours to make this report possible. We are still in the shadows of the chaotic May 2007 e-count in Scotland, and the electoral timetable is likely to preclude the deployment of computers in elections for the next two years. However, in that time these deterrents may have faded and legislators may feel eager to experiment with e-counting again. This report should be top of their reading list.

 

 

 

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