Chair's Foreword

James Cronin, Chair of the Open Rights Group Board

As we all foresaw our world is now digital. You and I live our lives online, earn our livings online, meet our friends online and spend our money online. Not in a strange disconnected parallel world called cyberspace, but in the real world, which digital technologies now pervade.

The influence of technology isn’t shrinking, its growth isn’t slowing and its sentiment isn’t depressed. Despite the macro economic troubles our country is experiencing our ‘Internet’ sector is growing in double digits. Furthermore, as confirmed in this week’s Boston Consulting Group report in this the UK leads the world.

There has never been a moment in history when the rate of change has been so great and in storms like this policy makers steering the ship have a truly daunting task and awesome responsibility. But we are the experts in this world and we share their responsibility. We must guide, inform, challenge and protest in order to protect the lives, liberties and livelihoods of us all.

I’m writing this foreword sitting at the back of the hall at ORGCon where hundreds of you are meeting today to help us plan and guide our route through this policy landscape, and it’s times like this when I can directly see how informed, enthusiastic and motivated you all are to protect and improve our world. That make me proud to Chair the Open Rights Group, and enjoy the pleasure of looking back on our last years’ work and to offer my thanks to all of you for your help and support.

2011 has been a year of consolidation and growth for ORG, seeing our financial position become more sustainable, and our staff skills strengthen and diversify. We have grown from a small team of two and a budget of under £50,000 in our early years to a team of six and an organization with a turnover of around £200,000 a year.

Pure finances however, are not how we measure success. There can be no doubt that we punch above our weight in our policy influence. This year, we severely dented the reputation of DCMS’s policy making, making them admit that the Digital Economy Act was in fact a “straw brick”, based on evidence the government was not permitted to examine. We mobilized the Open Data community into exposing the flaws in the “Public Data Corporation” and caused a rethink. In the last months, we exposed the machinations in the Home Office pushing for internet snooping, and we have seen incredible evidence out forward to the Hargreaves Review, on the topic of parody, purely through ORG’s work. We’ve also shown that default mobile censorship of “adult content” is a messy and damaging policy, that must not be extended to fixed Internet connections.

I would like to thank the staff for their hard work, and especially Nishma for her work with ORGCon, making it an even bigger and more successful event this year, and Peter, for his rigorous work on copyright reform, which is attracting the attention of policy makers at a very high level. I would also like to thank Simon Barnes, for his work on improving our financial management, and Javier Ruiz, for his timely interventions on Open Data policy, and the great prize of persuading GalaxyZoo to open source around £200,000 worth of transcription software for archival open data volunteers to use across the world; and Lee Maguire, who is already making strides improving our website and supporter management systems.

I’d like to thank Emma Byrne and Neil McGovern, as our first two elected Board members who are stepping down shortly, for their contributions, which have been highly knowledgeable and thoughtful; and Simon Collister and Vijay Sodiwala for their service on the Board, ending last Autumn; our funders, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Open Society Foundations, whose generosity deepens our reach on free expression, IP, Open Data and privacy issues.

Our office interns deserve a special word, including Habib Kadiri, Iman Kureshi, Jag Bahra, Oliver Keyes and Ryan Jendoubi, who made a particular contribution to our Zine, research and Wiki this year.

Finally, I would like to thank all of our supporters and volunteers. Without you we are nothing, and our successes, both past and future, belong to you.