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Press releases

Press releases

November 06, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Open Rights Group: RIPA not fit for purpose

Further evidence that the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is being used to violate the rights of UK citizens was exposed today. Documents released by human rights organisation, Reprieve  show that GCHQ and MI5 staff were told they could target lawyers’ communications. This undermines legal privilege that ensures communications between lawyers and their clients are confidential. 

The news that legal privilege is being violated comes weeks after it was revealed the Met police have used RIPA to circumvent journalistic privilege that protects journalists’ sources. 

Open Rights Group’s Legal Director, Elizabeth Knight said:

‘We already know that RIPA allows the security services to intercept all ‘external’ communications, breaching our right to privacy. By undermining journalistic and legal privilege, RIPA also threatens our rights to free speech and a fair trial. The government cannot keep defending these abuses. We need urgent reform of this broken law now. This disclosure demonstrates the need to introduce judicial authorisation.’ 

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November 03, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Open Rights Group response to GCHQ Director's claim that tech companies are aiding terrorists

Open Rights Group has responded to an FT comment piece by the Director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, in which he calls for “greater co-operation from technology companies', who are in his words, “the command and control networks of choice” for terrorists.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Robert Hannigan's comments are divisive and offensive. If tech companies are becoming more resistant to GCHQ's demands for data, it is because they realise that their customers' trust has been undermined by the Snowden revelations. It should be down to judges, not GCHQ nor tech companies, to decide when our personal data is handed over to the intelligence services. If Hannigan wants a 'mature debate' about privacy, he should start by addressing GCHQ's apparent habit of gathering the entire British population's data rather than targeting their activities towards criminals.”

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October 17, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Judgment recognises Open Rights Group's intervention in landmark website blocking case

Open Rights Group’s (ORG) intervention had a significant impact on a landmark case about internet trade mark infringement that was handed down today by the High Court in London. 

Although the court held that it had jurisdiction to order injunctions directly against intermediary Internet Service Providers (ISPs) so that websites selling counterfeit goods can be blocked to subscribers, Mr Justice Arnold adopted the key ORG submission that such orders should always contain safeguards against abuse.  He also adopted ORG’s proposal for such safeguards.

In particular the judge:

  • accepted ORG’s submission that the orders should be required to have safeguards against abuse, and that this was a requirement which had been missed by the other parties (para. 191);

  • adopted ORG’s concrete proposals about the information to be included on landing pages and “sunset clauses” as safeguards against abuse (paras. 262 to 265); and

  • thanked ORG for its “brief, moderate and helpful” written submissions, which were “sensibly” not opposed by the other parties (para. 7).

ORG’s Legal Director Elizabeth Knight said:

“Whilst we are disappointed that the Court decided it had jurisdiction to grant these blocking orders, we are very pleased that that the judge took account of ORG’s intervention and recognised our concerns by ensuring that safeguards against abuse were included in the judgment, including landing page information and sunset clauses.”

David Allen Green, lawyer at Preiskel & Co LLP, who acted for ORG pro bono said:
“ORG is not on the side of counterfeiters. But innocent internet users can end up being affected by these orders. The court should be mindful of how these orders can impact on third parties. Had it not been for ORG’s submission, various points may well not have been included in today’s judgment.  We are grateful to the High Court for allowing our intervention and in particular, recognising that the test to be applied by the court includes the requirement of there being safeguards against abuse. We hope that this intervention will go some way to help ensure that future claimants cannot use blocking orders to restrict legitimate activity or free speech.”

In his judgment, Mr Justice Arnold ruled that BSkyB, BT, EE, TalkTalk and VirginMedia should block a number of websites that have been using the trade marks of Cartier International and related companies for counterfeiting activity. 

ORG is campaigning for more transparency around websites blocked for legal reasons through its Error 451 project. ORG is calling for ISPs to show an error 451 message when material has been blocked by a court order and to provide more information to the public. 


The case was heard by Mr Justice Arnold at the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division. ORG's submissions were written by David Allen Green with the assistance of Elizabeth Knight and Greg Callus. 

Submissions made by ORG


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October 07, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

ORG responds to calls by National Crime Agency for greater surveillance powers

Open Rights Group has responded to comments by Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, which called for greater surveillance powers.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

‘Open Rights Group welcomes any public debate about the surveillance of our personal communications by the police and intelligence services but so far the government seems intent on simply increasing its powers to allow unchecked whole population profiling. To tackle terrorism and serious crime, we need need targeted surveillance that is authorised by judges not politicians, as well as proper democratic oversight to ensure that powers are not abused.’

Open Rights Group is challenging the government’s surveillance practices before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as one of the applicants in the ‘Privacy not Prism’ claim.  We are also involved in a legal challenge to the new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014(DRIPA). More information is available here:

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October 02, 2014 | Ed Paton-Williams

ORG responds to Conservative's UK Bill of Rights proposal

Open Rights Group has responded to proposals for a UK Bill of Rights, published today by lawyer and journalist David Allen Green on his blog here:

Executive Director of Open Rights Group,  Jim Killock said:

“This will make it very convenient for the government to carry on with mass surveillance and ignore future legal decisions limiting GCHQ’s whole population profiling. It is clear is that this government is determined to reduce the human rights protections available to ordinary people in order to avoid facing limitations on its own powers. But it is precisely these limitations that allow democracies to hold governments to account.”

The proposals could impact upon the Privacy not Prism legal challenge that ORG and other applicants have launched with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) by making it discretionary for the government to abide by any decision that the court makes.

For more information, please email, 020 7096 1079

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October 01, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Copyright exceptions for parody and format shifting become law

After nine years of campaigning, Open Rights Group is delighted that copyright exceptions for parody and format shifting have passed into law.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

"It has been a long, drawn-out campaign but we're delighted that people who contribute to the rich creativity of the internet by creating parodies will now have protection under the law. It’s also right that copying our own legally bought music or books for personal use will no longer be illegal.

Thanks to these changes, the government has taken this significant step towards making copyright law reflect the way we use and share content in the digital age. Contrary to what copyright lobbyists claim, updating the law will actually benefit rights holders by ensuring we have a stronger, more legitimate copyright regime."

Open Rights group has been campaigning for change to copyright law since the Gowers review in 2006. Following a second government review, the Hargreaves review in 2011, over 1400 parodists signed ORG's right to parody petition calling for change. In May this year that Parliament approved three of five statutory instruments relating to copyright law but asked for further debate over exceptions for parody and for personal copying (also known as format shifting). At the time, ORG raised concerns that the rights industry was demanding compensation that would lead to an iPod tax but the SIs were finally approved by the House of Lords at the end of July.  

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September 30, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

ORG responds to calls by Theresa May for new communications data bill

Open Rights Group has responded to the Home Secretary, Theresa May's call for a revival of the snoopers' charter to give the police greater powers to access communications data.

Open Rights Group's Executive Director, Jim Killock said:

"We already have GCHQ engaging in illegal mass surveillance justified by the investigation of terrorism. Why exactly does Theresa May need to revive the snoopers' charter which would give the police the same powers to infringe our liberties? We need targeted surveillance not data trawling and population profiling."

"However Cameron and May are at least honest enough to state they are prepared to flout human rights laws. The Labour Party and Lib Dems must now state if they support further unlawful mass surveillance powers so that we can have the national debate that they have called for. Whether we want our government to infringe on our rights to privacy and free speech in the name of national security is now a crucial election issue."

It has also been reported that May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will criticise the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act at the Conservative party conference. Killock added:

"Human rights legislation serves to protect us all. By restricting our liberties the Conservative are threatening the very freedom and democracy that they purport to defend."

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September 25, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Trade mark case could set a precedent for website blocking

Digital campaigners, the Open Rights Group (ORG), have intervened in a test case about trade mark infringement that is being heard in the High Court of Justice today. 

For the first time ISPs are being asked to block websites on the basis of alleged trade mark (rather than copyright) infringement. Whilst ORG takes no view on the merits of the trade mark claims in the current case, we believe the outcome of this case will have implications for future trade mark blocking applications, which could potentially threaten the legitimate interests of third parties.

Legal Director, Elizabeth Knight said:
 “As the court is being asked to extend the circumstances in which blocking orders are granted, it's vital that the wider public interest is taken into account. We hope that our intervention will help ensure that future claimants cannot use blocking orders to restrict legitimate activity or free speech.”

David Allen Green, lawyer at Preiskel & Co LLP, is acting for ORG pro bono. He said:

“In our adversarial system it is hard for the voices of third parties to be heard by a judge, even when the court will be developing remedies which can affect the legitimate rights of people who are not parties to a particular case.  In this case the High Court has kindly permitted the ORG to intervene so as to make detailed submissions on how this novel jurisdiction should not be abused.”

The case has been brought by luxury brands Cartier International and related companies. They are calling for BSkyB, BT, EE, TalkTalk and VirginMedia to block a number of websites that they claim have been using the brands’ trade marks for counterfeiting activity.

In its submission to the Court, ORG stresses that it is neutral about the details over this particular case. The organisation's concerns are that if the claimants are successful, the ruling could be used as a basis for applications for blocking orders that are contrary to the public interest - for example, if the judgment was used to try and block websites that use trademarks to legitimately criticise or parody well known brands. Court blocking orders may also affect commercial third parties who have no involvement in any alleged infringement - for example law abiding businesses whose products appear on websites alongside those of companies involved in infringing activity. ORG is not opposing the current application, but has submitted to the court a test that should be adopted so that blocking orders are only granted in circumstances where they are proportionate, effective and contain safeguards against abuse. 

ORG is campaigning for more transparency around websites blocked for legal reasons through its Error 451 project. ORG is calling for ISPs to show an error 451 message when material has been blocked by a court order and to provide more information to the public. 


The case will be heard by Mr Justice Arnold at the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division. ORG's submissions were written by David Allen Green with the assistance of Elizabeth Knight and Greg Callus. 

David Allen Green has given a more detailed account of the issues at stake on our blog.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact: Pam Cowburn, 07749785932,

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July 07, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

Threat of legal action not terrorism behind calls for emergency data retention legislation

Open Rights Group (ORG) has responded to government calls for emergency legislation that would require ISPs and telecoms companies to keep records of our phone calls, texts and internet usage as 'spin'.  The digital rights organisation believes that it is the threat of legal action from organisations like ORG, not the threat of terrorism, that are behind the calls for legislation.

Executive Director, Jim Killock, said:

“The government is tacitly admitting that our current data retention laws are illegal and that they are required to re-legislate. The European Court has ruled that data retention should be limited and blanket retention cannot be justified because it interferes with our right to privacy. However Theresa May actually wants to increase the amount of communications data that is kept about us.”

In April, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) struck down the Data Retention Directive because it breached our rights to privacy and protection of personal data. Since then, ORG has written to the government to ask them to stop trying to enforce EU data retention laws that are no longer valid. In addition, over 1,500 Open Rights Group supporters have contacted their ISPs asking them to stop retaining their data.

ORG is calling for any new legislation to include the guidance issued by the CJEU (below), in particular to recognise that blanket retention cannot be justified because it interferes with our right to privacy and should therefore be limited.

The CJEU ruling means there is likely no legal basis for the continuing retention of data by ISPs. Most experts believe that the Data Retention Regulations 2009, which oblige ISPs to keep these records, are now invalid.

The CJEU judgement defined the following limits to data retention under human rights law. They said that legislation must:

- provide exceptions for people whose communications must be confidential for legal reasons

- restrict retention to data that is related to a threat to public security and in particular restrict retention to a particular time period, geographical area and / or set of individuals likely to be involved in a serious crime or persons whose data would contribute to the prevention or prosecution of crime

- restrict access to defined, sufficiently serious crimes

- limit access to that which is strictly necessary

- empower an independent administrative or judicial body to make decisions about access to the data on the basis of need

- distinguish between the usefulness of different kinds of data and relate retention periods to that question

- keep retention periods as low as possible, i.e. to periods that are ‘strictly necessary'

- ensure the data is kept securely

- ensure destruction of the data when it is no longer needed

- ensure the data is kept within the EU.

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July 02, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

ORG's Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 sites are blocked by filters

  • Open Rights Group Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked by web filters

  • High level of variation between ISPs suggest filters are not consistent in protecting children

  • Overblocking is affecting bloggers, businesses and web users

A Porsche broker, a political blogger and a mum hoping to read an article about post pregnancy care are among those that have been affected by filters designed to protect young people from adult content.

The extent of overblocking has been revealed by Open Rights Group Blocked project, which is documenting the impact of filters. Web users can use a free checking tool on where they can instantly check to see if a website has been blocked by filters. So far Open Rights Group has tested over 100,000 sites and found that over 19,000 are blocked by one ISP or another.

Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said: “Through, the Blocked project we wanted to find out about the impact of web filters. Already, our reports are showing that almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked, and that the problem of overblocking seems much bigger than we thought. Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people, from businesses to bloggers, are being affected because people can’t access their websites."

One of the blocked sites is the political blog, Guido Fawkes whose Editor Paul Staines said:

"We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government."

ISPs have been criticised for the lack of information about how to get sites unblocked. Mum-of-one Marielle, said she was “humiliated" when she visited the Three store to find out how she could order to access an article about post-partum care on her phone: “The manager told me that I couldn’t access filtered articles without entering a 4 digit pin every time I wanted to read a filtered article because I had a PAYG plan.” Marielle submitted a report to Three saying that the article had been incorrectly blocked but didn’t get a response.

Other sites that have been incorrectly blocked by filters include: - this feminist rights blog was blocked by TalkTalk in April 2014. Editor-in-Chief says that as advertising revenue is generated by the number of site visitors, being blocked, ‘directly impacts our bottom line. But, more than that, we are concerned with the message that blocking our site sends: that pro-woman, pro-equality, pro-human rights subject matter is somehow offensive, inappropriate or otherwise problematic.’ - Philip Raby, who sells and services Porsches, only found out that his website was blocked by O2 when one of his customers told him. Philip says that it’s difficult to measure the financial impact of being blocked but, 'we must have lost some business and, of course, it doesn't look great telling people the site is not suitable for under 18s!’

About the project

Blocked is funded by Open Rights Group’s supporters and also sponsored by Bytemark and Andrews & Arnold Ltd

Technical volunteers built the tools that allow users to check urls. We have deployed a number of probes on both mobile and fixed-line ISPs. These probes test whether a particular URL is blocked on the networks to which they are connected.

Some ISPs offer different levels of filters. To find out more about the levels tested, go to our FAQs

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