December 02, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Digital Rights in the UK: Your Rights, Your Issues

The slightly strange thing about trying to write up the inaugural ORG event is that having spent my time arranging it, and being the person MCing it, my experience of it wasn't the same as that of the people who came and who made it such a success. I had my expectations of what I envisioned it all to be about, and those were blown out of the water pretty comprehensively, but in the best possible way. Jonathan Zittrain was a great speaker, his opening talk perfectly set the tone not just for the evening but for how we view ORG, as a voice to speak out against those who would erode our freedoms and liberties until there's nothing left. Then Lloyd Davis ran the open discussion bit which he started off by asking people what issues they were interested in. I'll admit here that I had expected people to say things like 'data retention' or 'e-voting' or 'privacy' or whatever, but they didn't. They said 'engaging with MPs', 'educating people', 'understanding what's happening in Europe', and stuff like that. I'd deliberately left the title of the event and the wording of the invitation a bit vague, but it surprised me that people were much more concerned about how we campaign than what we campaign about. Not that the topics we cover aren't of interest - they patently are - but most people seemed to be running on the assumption that we could figure that stuff out for ourselves. (And yes, we can, although it would have been interesting to find out which issues people were concerned most about.) Once people had clustered around the conversations they were interested in, my participation in the evening paused. I had meant to go round and find out what people were talking about, but I barely got to move two inches from my spot as various people came over to say hi, talk, offer ideas and help and advice. It was just great - the amount of goodwill extended towards us was fantastic, not to mention reassuring. I've always been keen that ORG be about collaboration and not some pissing contest to see who can get most attention. We had about 70 people turn up, which was just about perfect for that venue, although I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to more of you. Most people had a great time - one person mentioned that this sort of event was great because it was a rare opportunity to talk about these issues in an open forum. I happily took questions at the end, which is my job so it's nice to get a chance to do it! Of course, not everyone was happy. One young man asked "What do you do when you've finished sending out press releases?" to which I replied "Send out more press releases". But this raises a serious point and it's one we would all do well to remember. There is no endgame for ORG. There will never come a day when we say "Our work here is done. We can shut up shop and go home." There will never come a day when there are no digital rights abuses, no need to campaign, no stupid legislation to oppose. We never will finish sending out press releases. ORG is just beginning. It is a fledging organisation, trying to set up an infrastructure at the same time as campaigning on important issues that just can't wait. There's a lot we need to do. But our intention is to make ORG a lasting voice in digital rights - it will outlive me, it will outlive our current board, and eventually will pass into the hands of new activists. So, you might now be asking, what of the outcomes of the discussion? The brown paper stuck to the walls with index cards stuck to that? Where's all that information gone? Well, that's all on Lloyd's camera, and we're going to sort it out over the next week into something that makes sense, and will then put it up on a public wiki so that you can elaborate. We'll let you know when it's up. Finally, I want to thank InSync and 01Zero-One, particularly Tom Campbell, who not only provided us with the venue but also with the nibbles and drinks. Thanks also to Jonathan Zittrain and Lloyd Davis for giving up their time to come and help us get ORG off to a flying start. And thanks to everyone who turned up, and everyone who has pledged to support ORG financially. Without you guys, we'd just be an idea on the back of a napkin.

Comments (5)

  1. "The media":
    Dec 12, 2005 at 01:20 AM

    Hmmm, interesting discussion here, but do you really think when we (hacks) get sent releases we don't check out the websites of the organisation? This site is really pretty wobbly and has no real meat whatsoever. I think you need to brush up your appearance and organisation before you start asking for thousands of pounds and expecting to get anything other than footnotes in supplements to national press.

    Good luck though, I think these are important issues ...

    A Journo.

  2. Martin Coxall:
    Dec 03, 2005 at 11:57 PM

    No endgame? Tsk.

    As regards the future of ORG, in the absence of any statement from anybody in a position of

  3. Suw Charman:
    Dec 04, 2005 at 10:15 AM

    Martin, if you want to go do something else, go do it. You obviously don't like what we are doing, and that's fine by me. We are gonna do the media thing, the public consultation thing, the writing white papers thing, the signing open letters thing, and there's obviously nothing within the raft of activities we intend to undertake to which you could usefully and constructively contribute.

    So you go do your own thing. Go be patronising to the 'unwashed masses' and incite them to 'rise up' if you like. Go be your digital rights extremists if you like. I'd be happy to watch your progress as you work towards whatever endgame you think exists.

  4. Robert Dennis:
    Dec 08, 2005 at 12:33 PM

    Martin, in a couple of years you'll get to college, do the whole Footlights thing, and maybe learn something about satire. Until then, you should know that mocking people's names isn't funny, unless you're actually good at being funny. I read on a blog somewhere that skinnedcream are the Turner Prize winners of leftism. I honestly don't think you're even that - you are so appallingly schoolboy that I can't think why anyone (me included) has bothered to engage with you. In fact, I'm just going to stop now. Hope to catch up with you again when you grow up, or else not at all.

  5. J:
    Dec 06, 2005 at 11:21 AM

    I don't think there's a problem with the future of ORG. If it does nothing more than meet 6 times a year, press releases (or release presses?), and provide somewhere for confused journos/politicos/lawyers to turn for a readable summary of complex technical issues, then it will be doing very well indeed. In this mode, it would not as Suw says, ever complete its remit.