September 06, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Number 10 responds to iPlayer petition...

...And it's pretty lacklustre. Over 16,000 people signed the petition, demanding that the BBC stop excluding license fee payers who don't have computers running Microsoft software from its new on demand TV service. But Number Ten are apparently satisfied with the BBC Trust's commitment that the iPlayer would be cross-platform "as soon as possible", and the six-month review process the Trust has put in place:

"...the Trust conducted a Public Value Test on the BBC Executive's proposals to launch new on-demand services, including BBC iPlayer. This included a public consultation and a market impact assessment by Ofcom. In the case of the iPlayer, following the consultation, the Trust noted the strong public demand for the service to be available on a variety of operating systems. The BBC Trust made it a condition of approval for the BBC's on-demand services that the iPlayer is available to users of a range of operating systems, and has given a commitment that it will ensure that the BBC meets this demand as soon as possible."

As the Open Source Consortium have argued, what the Trust's provisions fail to acknowledge is the significant competitive advantage this lag time gives the purveyors of the only operating system currently supported by the iPlayer - Microsoft.

The Open Rights Group believes that the BBC should release content that has been bankrolled by license-fee payers in standard formats that are accessible to all.

Read the full petition response here. Read our submission to the BBC Trust's consultation on on-demand services here.

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September 05, 2007 | Becky Hogge


This morning, the news media are reporting a startling recommendation by one of the UK's most senior judges: that the Police National DNA Database (NDNAD) should cover every citizen in the UK, and every person who visits the UK. You can listen to Lord Justice Sedley talking with the Information Commissioner on the BBC's Today programme here.

Bioinformation can reveal extremely private information about an individual’s family relationships and physical health. As we wrote in our submission to the Nuffield Council of Bioethics consultation on the forensic use of bioinformation, the Open Rights Group opposes the DNA sampling of the entire population, and can see no circumstances under which it should be considered.

However, Lord Justice Sedley's recommendation does highlight the urgent need to address the regulations governing the NDNAD. Currently, DNA records of innocent people, including thousands of children, are kept indefinitely. There is no clear process for getting your DNA records off the database once you have given them to police, even if you only did so as a witness to a crime. Ethnic minorities and young males are disproportionately represented on the database, which is already the largest of its kind in the world. Lord Justice Sedley is right to call the current state of the NDNAD "indefensible".

If you want to find out more about the NDNAD, visit Genewatch UK's excellent information and action page, which has lots of suggestions about how to get your voice heard on this issue, as well as information about how to get your records off the database.

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September 03, 2007 | Ian Brown

Digital rights go continental

EDRI massiveORG is just back from a weekend in Berlin planning digital rights campaigns with groups from across Europe.

European Digital Rights (EDRI) is an umbrella body for 25 groups (including ORG) from 16 countries that coordinate their work on European legislation affecting privacy, copyright and related issues. EDRI just held its general assembly and also co-organised a meeting of activists fighting data retention laws.

The main topics of discussion were the EU Data Retention Directive and how far it had been implemented in member states; EU progress on a new privacy framework for European law enforcement agencies; Internet filtering; and the current status of European attempts to criminalise intellectual property rights infringement. The UK is not alone in strong-arming Internet Service Providers into retaining information about their customers' communications, and blocking access to sites alleged to contain child pornography. Denmark and Italy are also leading government efforts in these areas.

The campaigners at the meetings discussed possible ways to fight back against Internet censorship and surveillance. One plan under consideration is to develop an ISP code of best practice on customer privacy, based on EDRI-member GreenNet's Privacy and Data Retention policy. EDRI plans to conduct a survey of ISP practices, national legislation and policies.

EDRI also welcomed the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a new member. EFF European Affairs Coordinator Erik Josefsson attended the meeting on EFF's behalf.

A fuller report on these meetings will be included in the next EDRI-gram, which is always a useful resource for news of developments in Brussels and across the Council of Europe.

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September 03, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Gordon Brown at the NCVO: e-Voting off the agenda?

In a speech to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations this morning, Gordon Brown announced he would be convening a Speaker's conference on voting reform:

Today I am proposing to the Speaker that he calls a conference to consider, against the backdrop of a decline in turnout, a number of important issues, such as electoral registration, weekend voting, and the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons.

The Speakers Conference could also examine, in parallel with the Youth Citizenship Commission, whether we should lower the voting age to 16, so that we build upon citizenship education in schools and combine the right to vote with the legal recognition of when young adults become citizens.

Notice that remote electronic voting is absent from the (albeit non-exhaustive) list of potential topics for discussion. This is unusual, as increases in voter turnout is the most often-supplied reason for introducing e-voting into the UK electoral system (even though evidence to support this assumption is rarely forthcoming).

The Governance of Britain green paper produced by the Ministry of Justice before Parliament's Summer recess mentions remote electronic voting specifically (see para 150). Are the Electoral Commission's recent recommendations (not to mention the observations of ORG's volunteer electoral monitoring team) persuading Government to reconsider?

Is e-voting off the agenda?

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August 31, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - August 2007

Here's this month's Supporters Update, including good news from the Electoral Commission and two new tools we need your help developing.

Supporters Update - August 2007

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August 29, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Should we trust electronic elections?

Update: Supporter meetup venues and dates now confirmed - see you there!

ORG will tour the 3 major English political party’s conferences this Autumn, spreading our message that e-voting and e-counting systems are unwelcome developments in UK democracy. Ministers and representatives from the Electoral Commission will attend our fringe events to join a lively debate on electronic elections. But we need your help. We need you to invite your MPs, MEPs and councillors to discuss the issue and share their views. It took me less than 10 minutes to use writetothem to invite my MP. Event details are copied in below, and we also have letter-writing guidelines to help you out.

Party conference events are restricted to holders of expensive tickets, but ORG couldn’t miss this opportunity to meet up with local supporters, so we’re organising meet-ups in Brighton, Bournemouth and Blackpool. Please get in touch if you can join us, especially if you know a suitable venue! In addition, we need local volunteers to help flyer conference delegates and encourage them to join our fringe events.

ORG fringe event at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2007 - Brighton

When: 13.00 – 14.00, Sunday 16 September 2007 Where: Glyndebourne 2, Holiday Inn Hotel Panel: Jason Kitcat, Jon Pugh MP and Tom Hawthorn (Electoral Commission)

Supporter meetup: 16.00, Sunday 16 September at The Black Lion, 14 Black Lion St, Brighton

ORG fringe event at Labour Party Annual Conference 2007 - Bournemouth

When: 20:00 – 23:00, Wednesday 26 September 2007 Where: Bay View Suite, De Vere Royal Bath Hotel Panel: Michael Wills MP (Invited), Andrew Scallan (Electoral Commission) and Jason Kitcat

Supporter meetup: Thursday 27 September. 1800-2100 at The Inferno, Holdenhurst Rd, Bournemouth.

ORG fringe event at Conservative Party Conference 2007 - Blackpool

When: 19.30 – 21.00, Tuesday 2 October 2007 Where: New Victorian Bar, Winter Gardens Panel: Jonathan Djanogly MP, Andrew Scallan (Electoral Commission) and Jason Kitcat

Supporter meetup: 1900-2100, Monday 1 October, The Saddle Inn, 286, Whitegate Drive, Blackpool

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August 14, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Defective by Design protest against BBC iPlayer

Defective by Design iPlayer protest

DRM protesters Defective by Design braved the drizzle today to make their feelings known about the BBC iPlayer. I went down to join in, and found Hazmat-suit clad protesters calling for the BBC to reconsider its decision to use Microsoft DRM on the new online catch-up service, released in beta at the end of last month. You can see more photos of the protest in the Open Rights Group Flickr photo pool.

The 10 Downing Street iPlayer petition now has over 15,000 signatures. If you haven't already signed - hurry: there's less than one week left before it closes!

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August 10, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Lords report promotes security online

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published their fifth report today, which makes a variety of recommendations to legislators, the police, businesses and citizens to improve personal security on the internet. The full report is now available to download.

Much of this morning's media coverage is focussing on recommendations to create a dedicated e-crime unit, or to develop BSI kitemarks for security in internet services. But the report makes other recommendations too. For example, the Committee recommends introducing some kind of liability regime for software vendors, although it recognises the potential side effects this might have on innovation, or on open source software. The report sets up an interesting debate on this issue between some of the Committee's expert witnesses - including Bruce Schneier, Jonathan Zittrain and Alan Cox - which is well worth reading (go to para 4.25).

The report also makes some radical recommendations for network level security, suggesting that Internet Service Providers' traditional defence against liability for bad traffic on their networks - that they are "mere conduits" - should be looked at again. But any re-examination of ISP liability needs to be handled very carefully. As notice and takedown practices tied to suspected copyright infringement have shown, ISPs are not best placed to police the network, and can be expected to react to this kind of pressure by knocking users off the network without appropriate levels of investigation into those users' actions.

Other recommendations include more research funding for computer security groups and a re-examination of the Computer Misuse Act. The Committee also adds its voice to the chorus of people calling for greater powers for the Information Commissioner's Office. While such a detailed, considered and well-informed report should be welcomed, the digital rights community needs to pay close attention to how policy makers choose to interpret its recommendations.

More analysis of the report here and here.

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