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September 18, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Towards proper regulation of the DNA database

Today, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched their report on the regulation of the National DNA Database. The authors emphasised balancing ethical values, such as liberty, autonomy and privacy, against the database's benefits to law-enforcement. The headlines echo our own submission to the review:

  • Only people convicted of a crime should be permanently recorded, except those charged with serious violent or sexual offences.
  • Police should not be given powers to sample and store DNA, without consent, from people arrested for 'non-recordable' offences.
  • Those who volunteer their DNA (e.g. witnesses) should be able to request - without providing a reason - the removal of their DNA.
  • Unless there is a good reason to preserve it, children's DNA should be removed from the NDNAD on request.
  • Lawyers and juries should be given more help to understand the meaning of DNA evidence.
  • Familial searching should not be practiced unless it is necessary and proportionate.
  • Ethnic inferences should not be part of routine procedure.
  • The NDNAD should have an independent ethics and governance framework.
  • The regulation of all forensic databases, including oversight of research and other access requests, should be given statutory basis.

Concerns were expressed at this morning's launch event that Nuffield's recommendations do not go far enough. Terri Dowty (ARCH) argued that children must be given the right to exclude their own DNA from the register, rather than depending on their - not always reliable - guardians and the courts to aid in the removal of their genetic make-up. Helen Wallace (Genewatch) argued, in line with the Human Genetics Commission, against costly preservation of samples once the necessary profiles are extracted.

Despite these concerns, implementing these recommendations would significantly improve the current position. The Home Office is currently evaluating the aged statutory foundation of this database (the PACE Review) and is due to pronounce on the issue in December 2007.

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September 17, 2007 | Becky Hogge

ORG @ Liberal Democrat party conference 2007

ORG arrives at the Lib Dem party conferenceConference season got off to a fine start this weekend, as ORG set off around the country to raise awareness among grassroots party activists of the issues e-voting and e-counting pose for our democracy.

The panelJohn Pugh MP, Tom Hawthorne (Electoral Commission) and ORG's very own Jason Kitcat were expertly chaired by William Heath, and addressed a packed house. Some in the audience had had direct experience of the May pilots, some had seen the chaos in Scotland, others came with experience of postal voting, or simply with doubts about how a dramatic change like electronic voting would affect their campaigning work.

questions from the floorYou can download audio of the proceedings in full (mp3, ogg) and there are more pictures from the event in the ORG Flickr pool.

Thanks to everyone who made the event run so smoothly, thanks to all the local supporters who showed up afterwards to celebrate with us and thanks to Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd for giving us the financial support to stage the event. Next stop, Bournemouth!

You can also listen here via our embedded media player:

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September 17, 2007 | Glyn Wintle

Microsoft loses appeal

This morning, the European Court of First Instance announced that it would uphold the European Commission's decision that Microsoft has abused its dominant market position.

The Court ruled that Microsoft did this by refusing to supply and authorise the use of interoperability information and by tying together the Windows client PC operating system and Windows Media Player. Although the court essentially upheld the Commission's decision, it did annul certain parts relating to the appointment of a monitoring trustee, which it say have no legal basis in Community law.

ORG welcomes the Court's decision, which is good news for consumers and business alike. As ORG advisory council member Ian Brown points out over at Blogzilla:

"The network effects in many digital markets make competition law more vital than ever if we are to see vibrant free markets. A loss today for the Commission's competition directorate would have been disastrous, forcing them to tread much more carefully in regulating digital monopolists."

Groklaw has good analysis and pointers to reactions from the Free Software Foundation, Samba and others. Text of the full judgement is available here; initial reactions from Microsoft are available here.

ORG's Becky Hogge will be on the BBC1's one o'clock news today discussing the decision with the their technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones.

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September 11, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Supporter meetup in Brighton this weekend

If you're in or around Brighton this weekend, be sure to come and have a drink with ORG. We're really keen to meet ORG supporters in the area and find out about local digital rights concerns. It's not often we get to leave the big smoke on official ORG business (we're roadshowing our e-voting campaign at the Liberal Democrat party conference), so we want to make the most of it.

We're meeting at the Black Lion Pub, on Black Lion St, from 1600 this Sunday 16 September. Who knows, we might even raise a belated glass to Software Freedom Day.

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September 06, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Number 10 responds to iPlayer petition...

...And it's pretty lacklustre. Over 16,000 people signed the petition, demanding that the BBC stop excluding license fee payers who don't have computers running Microsoft software from its new on demand TV service. But Number Ten are apparently satisfied with the BBC Trust's commitment that the iPlayer would be cross-platform "as soon as possible", and the six-month review process the Trust has put in place:

"...the Trust conducted a Public Value Test on the BBC Executive's proposals to launch new on-demand services, including BBC iPlayer. This included a public consultation and a market impact assessment by Ofcom. In the case of the iPlayer, following the consultation, the Trust noted the strong public demand for the service to be available on a variety of operating systems. The BBC Trust made it a condition of approval for the BBC's on-demand services that the iPlayer is available to users of a range of operating systems, and has given a commitment that it will ensure that the BBC meets this demand as soon as possible."

As the Open Source Consortium have argued, what the Trust's provisions fail to acknowledge is the significant competitive advantage this lag time gives the purveyors of the only operating system currently supported by the iPlayer - Microsoft.

The Open Rights Group believes that the BBC should release content that has been bankrolled by license-fee payers in standard formats that are accessible to all.

Read the full petition response here. Read our submission to the BBC Trust's consultation on on-demand services here.

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September 05, 2007 | Becky Hogge

DNA-UK?

This morning, the news media are reporting a startling recommendation by one of the UK's most senior judges: that the Police National DNA Database (NDNAD) should cover every citizen in the UK, and every person who visits the UK. You can listen to Lord Justice Sedley talking with the Information Commissioner on the BBC's Today programme here.

Bioinformation can reveal extremely private information about an individual’s family relationships and physical health. As we wrote in our submission to the Nuffield Council of Bioethics consultation on the forensic use of bioinformation, the Open Rights Group opposes the DNA sampling of the entire population, and can see no circumstances under which it should be considered.

However, Lord Justice Sedley's recommendation does highlight the urgent need to address the regulations governing the NDNAD. Currently, DNA records of innocent people, including thousands of children, are kept indefinitely. There is no clear process for getting your DNA records off the database once you have given them to police, even if you only did so as a witness to a crime. Ethnic minorities and young males are disproportionately represented on the database, which is already the largest of its kind in the world. Lord Justice Sedley is right to call the current state of the NDNAD "indefensible".

If you want to find out more about the NDNAD, visit Genewatch UK's excellent information and action page, which has lots of suggestions about how to get your voice heard on this issue, as well as information about how to get your records off the database.

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September 03, 2007 | Ian Brown

Digital rights go continental

EDRI massiveORG is just back from a weekend in Berlin planning digital rights campaigns with groups from across Europe.

European Digital Rights (EDRI) is an umbrella body for 25 groups (including ORG) from 16 countries that coordinate their work on European legislation affecting privacy, copyright and related issues. EDRI just held its general assembly and also co-organised a meeting of activists fighting data retention laws.

The main topics of discussion were the EU Data Retention Directive and how far it had been implemented in member states; EU progress on a new privacy framework for European law enforcement agencies; Internet filtering; and the current status of European attempts to criminalise intellectual property rights infringement. The UK is not alone in strong-arming Internet Service Providers into retaining information about their customers' communications, and blocking access to sites alleged to contain child pornography. Denmark and Italy are also leading government efforts in these areas.

The campaigners at the meetings discussed possible ways to fight back against Internet censorship and surveillance. One plan under consideration is to develop an ISP code of best practice on customer privacy, based on EDRI-member GreenNet's Privacy and Data Retention policy. EDRI plans to conduct a survey of ISP practices, national legislation and policies.

EDRI also welcomed the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a new member. EFF European Affairs Coordinator Erik Josefsson attended the meeting on EFF's behalf.

A fuller report on these meetings will be included in the next EDRI-gram, which is always a useful resource for news of developments in Brussels and across the Council of Europe.

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September 03, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Gordon Brown at the NCVO: e-Voting off the agenda?

In a speech to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations this morning, Gordon Brown announced he would be convening a Speaker's conference on voting reform:

Today I am proposing to the Speaker that he calls a conference to consider, against the backdrop of a decline in turnout, a number of important issues, such as electoral registration, weekend voting, and the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons.

The Speakers Conference could also examine, in parallel with the Youth Citizenship Commission, whether we should lower the voting age to 16, so that we build upon citizenship education in schools and combine the right to vote with the legal recognition of when young adults become citizens.

Notice that remote electronic voting is absent from the (albeit non-exhaustive) list of potential topics for discussion. This is unusual, as increases in voter turnout is the most often-supplied reason for introducing e-voting into the UK electoral system (even though evidence to support this assumption is rarely forthcoming).

The Governance of Britain green paper produced by the Ministry of Justice before Parliament's Summer recess mentions remote electronic voting specifically (see para 150). Are the Electoral Commission's recent recommendations (not to mention the observations of ORG's volunteer electoral monitoring team) persuading Government to reconsider?

Is e-voting off the agenda?

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