Open Rights Group scored a major victory this year in helping push Phorm out of the UK, and securing the support of the EU Commission in defence of UK privacy laws. The Commission intervened at the end of last year after we and others wrote to them outlining the lack of protection individuals had from interception in the UK.
A number of specific problems were identified by the Commission, including the lack of an official body that would handle and act upon complaints, and the fact that the E-commerce directive expects in many cases consent to be required by all parties before a communication is intercepted. Our view is the RIPA also requires this kind of consent, but the UK government seemed to be taking a rather different view.
As Phorm seemed to be on the verge of deployment, the Open Rights Group asked major websites to opt out of BT’s system, and ‘block’ Phorm. Our view was that the commercial viability and acceptability of the system would be undermined if websites asserted their legal right (and perhaps duty) not to have their users’ communications intercepted.
We also organised very large grassroots Facebook groups, reaching several thousand members, many of whom have joined us in our other campaigns.
By this summer, BT and others had dropped plans to deploy Phorm. The EU is continuing with their ‘infraction’ proceedings and may take the UK to court if our government fails to give us the privacy rights we are entitled to in EU law.
ORG launched a highly successful spoof website, Statebook, earlier this year, which gained international attention, and over 30,000 visitors. The main object was to show the breadth of information that government gathers about us, but also to show the next steps that they intend to take. We used the site to encourage people to email their MPs about Intercept Modernisation.
Later in the year, we responded to the announcement of plans to ‘snoop on Facebook’, through deep packet inspection to retrieve ‘traffic data’. We created with largest Facebook group, with nearly 5,000 members at its peak, helping to popularise the message that our right to be free from government surveillance matters to everyone.
We later submitted a joint consultation response with the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FiPR). Subsequent to the consultation, the government has chose not to legislate. These dangerous plans for mass surveillance have been shelved – but are not dropped. Whatever the colour of the government, shadowy figures in the upper ranks the civil service will be pushing for measures like this: and ORG will be ready to oppose them.
After the publication of the Database State report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and Foundation for Information Policy Research, the Open Rights Group was invited to run a series of four expert seminars, to which we also invited departments and political parties. Experts were asked to discuss how privacy could be respected in government systems including health, law enforcement, transport and education.
The results of the seminars were highly interesting, and will shortly be published and distributed to MPs and campaigners. A video with many of the key themes is being produced.
RIPA has been the target of digital rights activists since its inception. It was a major campaign for the Foundation for Information Policy Research, which remains a leading voice in our movement, and helped the Open Rights Group get established.
We jointly submitted a response to the government’s consultation with FiPR, outlining the continuing problems with this Act. While our present government largely rejected the points we made, some of the points we made are being noted by the Opposition.