As we at the Open Rights Group celebrate our fourth birthday we do so in a world where the issues and rights that our founders established us to inform and defend are now no longer the preserve of the fortunate few towards the top of the education and economic pile, but are of direct and every-day relevance to a growing majority of this country’s population who touch the digital world whenever they search for information, listen to music, watch television, travel, walk through a city centre and live and vote in a democracy.
The Open Rights Group is now recognized as the leading organization campaigning for an informed use of technology and studying the policy and impact of digital technologies on the lives and rights of citizens and consumers and users of digital media and services.
Our organization is respected for its evidence based, firm and mature methods and our opinion is increasingly high on the short list to be sought by government and media alike.
Our achievements to date include helping to prevent insecure e-voting, and contributing to a vision of flexible copyright in the government’s Gower’s Report. This year we added to this record by helping prevent Phorm from breaking UK privacy and data protection laws and stopping copyright term extension.
We are now mounting a solid fight back to government proposals that would allow Internet users to be summarily disconnected and banned on the basis of accusations of copyright infringement without adequate judicial oversight or the proper right to defend themselves.
More widely, objections from ORG and others have helped beat back government intercept modernization plans proposing mass surveillance of Internet traffic. ORG and our partners including NO2ID and Privacy International have helped win the argument in society at large to protect our right to privacy. This is a crucial change and shows that despite the continuing and fundamental threats to privacy, we can win the argument both with the public and with politicians.
For a four year old organization I think we’ve done well.
The foundation of our success is not just having the right ideas, it’s down to you, our supporters, and your extraordinary contributions of time, thought and energy. As Chair, with responsibility for ensuring the future effectiveness and viability of the organization, I would like to especially thank all of the supporters who have kindly contributed to us financially and ask for your help in ensuring that more people join so that we can continue our work and extend our effectiveness. I would like to extend a warm and timely welcome to the 228 people who have joined as supporters in the last two months, many of whom have been motivated to do so because of the highly dangerous proposals made in the Digital Economy Bill.
As our organisation has matured we have taken significant steps towards opening up ORG’s governance, including holding an open Advisory Council recruitment process the members of whom add great value to our expertise and network. Special thanks goes to Tom Watson for his parliamentary work on a range of digital issues, many of which are much wider than just ORG’s work.
This year we will hold new elections to the Board with candidates voted for by ORG supporters, which will strengthen our commitment to participation and being an open organisation. We will be recruiting ‘expert’ board members as well, to help maintain a balance of skills in those we depend on for our good governance.
I would like to thank every one of our volunteers who have worked to make the tools, the web content and ORG’s systems function and who make their voices heard by joining us in action; our Board, especially William Heath and Louise Ferguson who have recently moved on to pastures new and both of whose contribution since our formation has been heroic; and our exceptional staff Michael Holloway and Executive Director Jim Killock who ably and impressively run the organization and have this year significantly extended our campaigning activity. Thanks also to Becky Hogge, who left as Executive Director this January after a highly successful tenure. Her work was inspirational and forward thinking and without that strong foundation we would not have enjoyed the continued success we saw this year.
Finally, I would like to thank the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, who this year, helped us run the Database State seminars, and the Open Society Institute, who funded our copyright campaigner, Gavin Hill whose determination and hard work on European sound copyright term extension impressed all participants in the debate. Without both of their generous support we simply would not exist.
I hope that you enjoy reading our report. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments and welcome you to join with us and help us defend our future.
James Cronin, Chairman.
About the Open Rights Group
The Open Rights Group (ORG) is a grassroots, technology-focussed organisation which exists to protect civil liberties whenever they are threatened by the poor implementation and regulation of digital technology. We call these rights our “digital rights”.
Our digital rights are affected when the increasing ability of corporate and state entities to store data about our physical makeup, our habits or our communications threatens our right to privacy. Our digital rights are affected when the introduction of computers into the voting process threatens our right to a free and transparent election, or when overzealous intellectual property legislation, brought into being by the concerns of traditional entertainment conglomerates when faced with new technologies, denies us access to our cultural heritage or threatens our right to freedom of expression. Often, it is simple ignorance that threatens our digital rights: the media and politicians sometimes don’t understand new technologies, but comment and pass laws anyway.
ORG’s aims are:
- to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world;
- to raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses;
- to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists;
- to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations; and
- to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts.
The Open Rights Group was founded in December 2005 by a pledge from 1000 people to “create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK”.
The ORG story started in the summer of 2005, when a group of technology activists organised a panel discussion entitled “Where’s the British EFF?”, at OpenTech, a technology and open source conference. The event was received with overwhelming interest and it soon became clear that there was significant support for a UK based digital rights organisation.
That afternoon, Danny O’Brien created a pledge on PledgeBank, with a deadline of Christmas Day 2005. The pledge read: “I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK, but only if 1,000 other people will too.” The pledge reached 1000 people on 29 November 2005, and ORG started accepting donations from its supporters in January 2006.
ORG employs three staff, who are supported by a 23 strong Advisory Council tasked with helping form policy and prioritise issues, a nine strong board of non-executive directors and a volunteer community of over 50 people who actively help in the running of the organisation. Our patron is the author Neil Gaiman.