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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August 02, 2007 | Becky Hogge

ORG welcomes Electoral Commission recommendation to halt pilots

The Electoral Commission released its official evaluation of the 3 May electoral pilots in England this morning. Among their key recommendations, they advise that:

"no further piloting should take place in the absence of a robust, publicly available strategy that has been subject to extensive consultation."

We're pleased that the Commission has recognised the desperate need for public debate about the role technology might play in our electoral system. We're also satisfied that the detail of the Commission's reports on pilots in Bedford, Rushmoor, Sheffield, Shrewsbury, South Bucks, Stratford and Swindon confirm the experiences of our own election monitoring teams. But we're disappointed that the fundamental challenges in using computers for elections have not been fully recognised by the report.

The Commission has produced detailed reports of each pilot area, as well as technical reports, and summary recommendation reports. You can download all of them from the Electoral Commission website. The Ministry of Justice will now respond to these reports and recommendations, although no timescale for this response has been set.

The Open Rights Group will be touring the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative party conferences in the Autumn, when Jason Kitcat, ORG's e-voting campaign coordinator, will be joined onstage by front bench MPs and representatives from the Electoral Commission, to debate the question "Should we trust electronic elections?". Jason will also be appearing at the Green Party conference, and we are currently trying to secure an event at the Scottish National Party Conference too. But we need your help. Please help us get as many of your elected representatives involved in this debate, by writing personally to invite each of them along. We've provided guidelines on how to do this.

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July 31, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - July 2007

Here's this month's supporters update for your enjoyment. Please please invite your MPs and councillors to our fringe events this September / October.

Supporters Update - July 2007

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July 25, 2007 | Becky Hogge

BBC Trust: iPlayer must be cross platform

Update: Digital Lifestyles interviewed the OSC as they emerged from meeting the BBC Trust. Listen to the recording, which discusses the process planned to bring platform-neutrality to iPlayer.

Members of the Open Source Consortium met with staff at the BBC Trust yesterday to discuss their concerns about the iPlayer, due to launch in beta on Friday. And although the OSC left the meeting with reassurances that the Trust are committed to making the iPlayer cross platform, it is still unclear when solutions for Linux users will be rolled out. Speaking to ORG, the OSC said that the meeting was unlikely to deter them from taking their complaints to the European competition authorities.

The BBC could avoid all this mess if it eschewed DRM and instead employed standard formats. Sources say this is unlikely, since the BBC is under pressure from rightsholders to "protect" content it lets license fee payers download. But in other areas, like the recording industry, rightsholders are beginning to see how offering their wares without DRM can be good for business. The BBC should be leading the way on this issue, not running to catch up.

DRM is not a disincentive to downloading - it's only ever a barrier to uploading. And given that, for example, Windows Media player DRM was cracked as recently as last week, it is not a very effective barrier at that. What's really bizarre about the BBC's employment of DRM for the iPlayer is that their programmes can already be downloaded using PVRs that receive free-to-air digital transmissions. Media convergence means there is no practical difference between unencrypted satellite, free-to-air, DAB or the internet in terms of control of content.

If you haven't signed the iPlayer e-petition, do it now: news sources are beginning pick up on the growing number of people who feel they are affected by this issue. ORG's response to the iPlayer consultation is here, and our work on DRM for last year's APIG inquiry is here.

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July 24, 2007 | Becky Hogge

UK Government says no to term extension

Back in May, we reported on the House of Commons Culture Committee's misguided decision to recommend that the term of copyright in sound recordings be extended. The recommendation come despite compelling evidence that as well as harming consumers and follow on innovators, such a move would bring no benefit to the majority of UK recording artists and would result in a net loss to the UK economy. It also came couched in language that betrayed a basic misunderstanding of copyright law on behalf of the Committee.

Today the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have responded to the Culture Committee, and the good news is they've rejected the recommendation to extend term. From the official response:

"The Government appreciates the work of the Committee and the deliberation it has given to thissubject. As the Committee noted, the independent Gowers Review also considered this issue in detail and recommended that the European Commission retain a term of protection for sound recordings and performers of 50 years. The Review undertook a detailed analysis of all the arguments put forward, including the moral arguments regarding the treatment of performers. It concluded that an extension would not benefit the majority of performers, most of whom have contractual relationships requiring their royalties be paid back to the record label. It also concluded that an extension would have a negative impact on the balance of trade and that it would not increase incentives to create new works. Furthermore, it considered not just the impact on the music industry but on the economy as a whole, and concluded that an extension would lead to increased costs to industry, such as those who use music – whether to provide ambience in a shop or restaurant or for TV or radio broadcasting – and to consumers who would have to pay royalties for longer. In reaching such conclusions, the Review took account of the question of parity with other countries such as the US, and concluded that, although royalties were payable for longer there, the total amount was likely to be similar – or possibly less – as there were fewer revenue streams available under the US system.

"An independent report, commissioned by the European Commission as part of its ongoing work in reviewing the copyright acquis, also considered the issue of term. It reached the same overall conclusion on this matter as the Gowers Review.

"Taking account of the findings of these reports, which carefully considered the impact on the economy as a whole, and without further substantive evidence to the contrary, it does not seem appropriate for the Government to press the Commission for action at this stage."

You can download the full response here. It's worth a read in full, as the Committee's report, on the whole and apart from the recommendations regarding copyright term, made some good recommendations for New Media and DCMS's responses are generally good too.

As the BPI point out in today's press, this means that they will have to take their fight for copyright term extension to Europe without the support of the UK government. This is significant, since the UK government is likely to have a disproportionately loud voice on this issue both because it is home to the most lucrative recording industry in Europe and because it has taken the time to review this issue in detail.

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July 24, 2007 | Becky Hogge

After the flood...

As you may have noticed, the ORG website has been down over the last couple of days. Although we're still not sure quite what happened, we believe it has something to do with the recent floods in the Gloucester area. Thanks to everyone for their patience, and extra special thanks to the magnificent Lemon, Adam and James for their tireless work getting ORG back online.

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July 18, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Automatic Numberplate Recognition - function creep begins?

congestion charge cameras, with thanks to jeroen020@flickrYesterday, Home Office minister Jacqui Smith announced that she had signed a certificate to exempt Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police from certain provisions of the Data Protection Act. The move will facilitate the transfer of bulk data from the TfL's congestion charging cameras, which the Met will be permitted to use when investigating threats to national security. The data - collected using automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras which encircle the capital - can reveal the movements of all motor vehicles in and out of the city centre.

Oversight of the new arrangement comes in the form of an annual report to the Information Commissioner's Office. But until the ICO are given sufficient clout to effectively enforce the current Data Protection regime, should we really be convinced that this represents enough of a check on new data sharing powers?

Today, news sources are reporting that leaked Home Office documents reveal plans to extend these powers "for all crime-fighting purposes". According to this report from the Guardian, the DTI had expressed reservations over such a move, since it is likely that associated privacy concerns would slow down proposed road-pricing schemes that have already attracted public pushback. Earlier this year, a petition against road-pricing attracted 1.7 million signatures. In his response, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair assured petitioners that "any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be."

Spyblog has a thorough analysis of the legality or otherwise of function creep in ANPR systems, drawing on the Annual Report of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (pdf), which, coincidentally, went online yesterday. For more information on ANPR technology, and Association of Chief Police Officer's proposals to "deny criminals the roads", see ORG's wiki resources page. And don't forget that if you're concerned about the effective scrutiny of our data protection laws, you can help contribute to the ORG response to an ICO consultation on Data Protection Strategy.

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: E-voting's Unsolvable Problem-->
  • ORG Glasgow: A discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • ORG Aberdeen: March Cryptonoise event
  • ORG North East: Take control of your online life
  • ORG Cambridge: Monthly March Meetup