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August 08, 2008 | Michael Holloway

More reasons to join ORG

Book image

The good news is that our supporter recruitment drive is continuing apace. The fundometer is currently showing a winsome 881 and more supporters are joining up every second of every minute of every day (well, sort of). The great news is that lovely bloggers are encouraging their readers to donate to ORG by writing nice things about us. Seems our fiendish offer of t-shirts and hardware is working a treat. Other kindly folks are auctioning exclusive goodies to donate the proceeds to Open Rights.

The very best news is that Professor Ross Anderson of FIPR has generously promised us three signed copies of the new edition of his epic book Security Engineering to lure in new supporters. Thanks, Ross! To be in with a chance of securing your copy, just sign up and write 'I love Ross' in the 'How you heard about ORG' field. We'll give books to the three new supporters whose donations reach us first.

For those not yet familiar with this mighty work, a testimonial from Bruce 'security guru' Schneier should interest you: "If you're even thinking of doing any security engineering, you need to read this book." Another clear sign of its quality is a reference to our 2007 Elections Report. Want to find out more? Best join up then.

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July 31, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - July 2008

Here's a link to this month's supporter update, which is a bumper edition with news of our blooming supporter drive and an extremely busy campaigning month for ORG. Please read and give us some feedback on how we're doing .

Link to July 2008 supporter update.

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July 29, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Next election for Mayor of London to be counted manually?

Will the 2012 election for Mayor of London be counted manually? Yes, at least, that’s the assumption the UK’s elections watchdog would like City Hall to make. The Electoral Commission’s report into the London Elections [pdf] has called for the Greater London Returning Officer to carry out a cost benefit analysis of options for counting ballot papers at the 2012 elections "as a matter of urgency" (mirroring the key recommendation from ORG’s recent report), and to start from the assumption that the vote will be counted manually.

The statutory report, published earlier this month, vindicates many more of the observations made by Open Rights Group volunteers in our 2008 London Elections report. The Electoral Commission are "extremely concerned" that they have not been given full access to audits of the e-counting system commissioned from KPMG before the election, demanding that any future technical audit include a requirement for full publication. They write:

"We recognise that commercial suppliers... may wish to protect their commercial interests. However, such wishes should never take priority over the interests of electors"

The Commission also raise the same concerns as ORG over the ballot box verification process, and the discrepancies observed between figures for ballot papers issued at the polling station, and ballot papers scanned in the count centre. They recommend that any future e-count allow count centre staff to record reasons for such discrepancies, and provide "verification statements" to candidates, party agents and observers. They concur with our analysis that the system could have been recording blank ballots as valid votes. And they also touch on the fact, detailed in the ORG report, that nearly 1,000 votes for London Mayor from the Merton and Wandsworth constituency never made it into the final result because of a transmission error.

Central to the ORG report were concerns around transparency, and the Electoral Commission report emphasises loss of transparency as one of the "hidden costs" of electronic counting. They point out that observers at electronic counts need to increase their technical knowledge in order to understand what is going on, because:

"Candidates, agents and observers act as a crucial check on the accuracy and integrity of the count process, both for their own benefit and for the wider benefit of the vast majority of electors who are not able to physically attend the count."

Last year, the Electoral Commission recommended that no further pilots of e-voting or e-counting take place until the Government have released "a robust, publicly available strategy that has been the subject of extensive consultation". In this month’s report, they reinforce this recommendation, demanding in addition a full cost benefit analysis for the use of electronic counting.

Will the Ministry of Justice listen? Despite expectations that a strategy document on e-voting and e-counting could be available before the Summer recess, no such document has emerged. And it seems their idea of extensive consultation is one question hidden in a pretty unrelated consultation (on remote electronic voting – a completely barmy idea that even the USA won’t touch with a barge pole). We can only hope that the Government listen to this latest Electoral Commission report – and to the growing consensus that "modernising" elections doesn’t have to mean expensive computer systems that hide the workings of our most important democratic ritual in a black box away from public scrutiny.

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July 28, 2008 | Michael Holloway

ORG Growth - 825 fivers and counting!

Mo' money As you'll have noticed if you've been tracking the ORG fundometer, since launching the ORG-GRO supporter drive three short weeks ago, we've scored a phenomenal 10% growth, as well as a pile of one-off cash donations. This means we're on track to double the number of monthly fivers we receive to support our work during 2008. Thanks to everyone so far who's put their hands in their pockets for ORG. And if you're yet to pledge your monthly fiver, please do so now.

Some of these fantastic early results are due to volunteer efforts, such as Danny O'Brien (pictured)'s pledge to blog every day for a month if five people sign up to ORG (he's also pledged to resuscitate NTK - ntk.net - if ten more of his readers agree to give ORG a tenner a month) and the posse of ORGsters (Glyn, Sheila and Richard) who spread the good word at LUG Radio Live. Just as pleasing is the fact that the extra work we're putting into our financial stability has not limited our campaigning.

We're also excited to announce that the volunteer who attracts the most new supporters will win an Eec PC, donated by the kind people at Asus. If you convince someone to join ORG, be sure that they note your supporter ID on their sign-up form. We'll keep a league table of supporters for the next few months and announce a winner on ORG Day (19 November) 2008. For more details, see the ORG-GRO page. Also, don't forgot that there's a mystery gift (ooh!) for new supporters who sign up to donate ten pounds a month, and also for existing supporters who increase their donation level to ten pounds a month.

Thanks to Bowbrick for the image.

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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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