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September 14, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Framing DRM

Kevin Marks uses Lakovian frames* to explain what's wrong with DRM to five different audiences, of which the first two:

Computer Users: DRM turns your computer against you
I know sometimes it seems like your computer has it's own agenda, when it refuses to print or copy or find your documents. DRM does this on purpose. It is designed to stop you copying and pasting, printing and sharing things. I don't think you want this.

Computer Scientists: DRM will fail through emulation
One of the basic precepts of Computer Science is the Church-Turing thesis, which shows that any computer can emulate any other one. This is not theory, but something we all use every day, whether it is Java virtual machines, or CPU's emulating older ones for software compatibility.

The corollary of this is that code can never really know where it is running. For a rock solid example, look at MAME, the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator, that runs almost any video game from the last 30 years. The games think you have paid a quarter when you press the '5' key.

I like this sort of comparative re-framing of debates. It provides for a variety of different viewpoints, acknowledges that there's more than one way to think about these issues and allows you to hit one very big bird many times with several well-framed stones.

* 'Frames' are a way of presenting information or rhetoric that is sympathetic to a specific audience's paradigm. George Lakoff applied frames to political communications thus illuminating how language is used by politicians to very subtly reinforce their point.

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September 14, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

ZDnet: Digital rights group to fight data retention

Had an hour-long conversation with Karen Gomm from ZDNet UK yesterday, which resulted in this piece about ORG and data retention (page 2, page 3). A snippet for you:

The Open Rights Group wants to take on Charles Clarke over ID cards and telecoms data, and help develop fair-use rights for digital content

A digital rights organisation, the Open Rights Group (ORG), has been formed to tackle European and UK legislation which could threaten digital and civil freedoms.

ORG will serve as a hub for other cyber-rights groups campaigning on similar digital rights issues and follows in the footsteps of the US group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

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September 11, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

The mother of all 'to do' lists

Louise, James and myself spent a good chunk of time yesterday going through the Memorandum of Association and the Articles of Association. They are basically the documents that explain what the Open Rights Group will be doing and how, and are a legal requirement for incorporating a company, which we will need to do in order to be able to take donations and act as a non-profit.

It's one of those tasks, though, that puts the 'argh' into 'tedious'. And talking of tasks, here's what we've achieved so far:

  1. We've found free office space in central London for the next six months, which is a significant coup because it's going to save us a lot of money and provide us with valuable resources.
  2. We've taken advice on the best legal form for the organisation to take - a company limited by guarantee - that will both protect members and give them a voice.
  3. We've obtained and are going through boilerplate constitutional documents: the Memorandum and Articles of Association.
  4. We've got a name, (and boy, was that time consuming!), and have checked Companies House regarding such a name.
  5. I've set up this interim blog on my own hosted server to keep you as informed as possible as what's going on and are making arrangements for a permanent home for our online presence.
  6. I've personally bought domain names, although I can't cover all variations because my budget's not big enough.
  7. We've been drafting roles and responsibilities documents for the Interim Board, Interim Advisory Council and Interim Executive Director.
  8. We've been hunting out potential supplementary sources of funding and have some good leads there.
  9. We've been trying to track down pro bono professional advice regarding things like incorporation.
  10. We've investigated the costs of different methods for gathering donations.
  11. We've been looking at potential free venues for holding plenary and other meetings and have started planning the first meeting.
  12. We've been fielding press requests for information, including BBC Radio 5, BBCi, Channel 4 Despatches, ZDNet, and the Washington Internet Daily.
  13. We've been looking into best practice on governance of not-for-profit organisations.
  14. We've been consulting other not-for-profits to find out about the pitfalls that we need to avoid, particularly in terms of the legalities and organisational issues.
  15. I've been invited to speak at three conferences on digital rights issues (details to be confirmed - I'll blog them when they are).
  16. We've been doing preliminary research into the various digital rights issues that we may be covering.
  17. I've been doing research into the 'digital rights landscape' - who's doing what in digital rights.
  18. We've been gathering volunteers - people who have emailed us to offer their help.
  19. We've drafted an initial campaign plan.
  20. We've been thinking about things like communications plans, website development plans, volunteer plans, future strategy etc.
  21. We've drafted a preliminary budget.
  22. We've been in close liaison with the EFF (beyond our contact through Danny and Cory), as well as speaking to members of FIPR, the FFII, No2ID, Citizens Online, CDR, STAND, UKIF and UKNOF.

Of course we still have a lot to do, including (and this list is by no means in exhaustive or in any sort of order):

  1. Finalise the Memorandum and Articles of Association, and have them checked by a lawyer.
  2. Decide on the financial Standing Orders
  3. Incorporate.
  4. Find a bank and open an account.
  5. Open PayPal account.
  6. Set up membership processes and follow up on the pledge.
  7. Finalise the organisation structure to provide accountability, transparency and expert input.
  8. Write job descriptions for the Board and Advisory Council members, and the Executive Director.
  9. Decide how we will decide who is doing what going forward.
  10. Pursue funding opportunities.
  11. Decide on types of membership.
  12. Design processes for membership decision making and financial control.
  13. Investigate Data Protection as regards the membership database.
  14. Set up an appropriate membership database.
  15. Find out legal requirements for everything from insurance to Health and Safety to employment law to contracts.
  16. Register with the Inland Revenue.
  17. Communications plan.
  18. Campaigns plan.
  19. Find pro bono experts.
  20. Benefactor management plan.

OK, so that gives you a taster of what we're spending our spare time doing, and what we still have to do.

If you happen to be, or know, a lawyer willing to work pro bono with experience in setting up a non-profit company limited by guarantee, please contact us. We would also like to speak to a pro bono accountant if at all possible, and someone with expertise in Data Protection Act compliance.

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September 09, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

BBCi: UK digital rights group sets up

Spoke to the BBC yesterday, and the results are up online today. That's nearly as fast a turnaround as blogging!

In case you're curious as to what I actually said to them:

The main aims of the Open Rights Group are:

- to foster a grassroots community of campaigning volunteers
- to connect journalists and the press with digital rights experts and activists

At the moment the media rely very heavily on press releases from industry and government which results in biased or malformed reporting on digital rights issues. We hope to redress the balance by helping journalists more fully understand the issues and connect with the right experts who can explain alternative positions. We will be working alongside organisations such as No2ID and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), who are already making good progress in the digital rights arena, to raise awareness of these very important issues in the media.

We will also be organising volunteer-led campaigns and creating a strong grassroots community, including activists, technical experts and lawyers, who can exchange expertise and provide support to the community at large.

We have had overwhelming support since we announced the Pledge, which indicates that the Open Rights Group is an idea whose time has come. Many people in the UK are fed up of the way that our civil and human rights are being run roughshod over by big business and the government, and they are keen not just to donate money, but also to take part in grassroots campaigns.

We are using Pledgebank.com/rights to provide a way for members to pledge their cash to the organisation, and once that matures - by reaching 1000 signatories - we will be able to properly 'launch' the Open Rights Group. However, the group is already 'in beta', if you like - we are already planning our first campaign and collaborating with other organisations on the issues we will be addressing.

There are a wide number of digital rights issues in the UK, ranging from privacy concerns brought up by biometric passports and vehicle tracking systems to free speech issues surrounding overly restrictive copyright law to the threat to our right to private life and correspondence from proposed data retention legislation.

We will initially be concentrating our efforts on Home Secretary Charles Clarke's proposed draft EU framework on data retention for ISPs and telecommunications companies. We believe that the proposal is not only both unnecessary and unworkable, but that it may also contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

We have never needed an organisation like the Open Rights Group more than we do now. The implications of the digitisation of information and the ease with which such data can be now moved about are vast, and where physical restraints - such as having only paper copies of medical records - once helped secure our privacy, now it is only through unwavering vigilance that we will be able to prevent the abuse of our digital rights.
They then emailed me back and asked me to comment on the article they'd written about it back in June:
> "Gail Bradbrook, director of strategy and partnerships at Citizens
> Online, said the new group needed a clear, distinct identity if it was
> to succeed and avoid confusing people about its aims.

The Open Rights Group is very much a developing project. When Gail was
first interviewed, we had no web presence at all other than the
pledge. We're addressing that now with the blog at
www.openrightsgroup.org, and in due course will develop our own
website to help connect volunteers and activists.

> "There are all sorts of people working on rights around the internet, ID
> cards, freedom of speech and so on," she said.
>
> Ms Bradbrook questioned the list of issues that the group could take on
> and said there was a danger that it would only concentrate on "middle
> class" issues and debates.

There are a large number of both organisations and individuals working
on digital rights issues. Our aim is to work alongside these people,
helping them to connect with each other and providing them with
whatever support we can. We do not wish to take on issues which are
being successfully addressed by other organisations, but would prefer
to collaborate and assist. For example, if a journalist came to us to
ask about software patents, we'd pass them on to the Foundation for a
Free Information Infrastructure, (FFII) who have done fanatastic work
in Europe and have a lot of expertise to share.

The 'middle class' lable is a red herring - digital rights are
important for everyone, regardless of age, background or location. We
all have mobile phones, medical records and the right to vote
anonymously, so we are all affected by the way that new technology is
being used by government and big business. Whether people are online
or not, it is vital that we protect their digital rights.

> She said there was no doubt that such things were important but there
> were other issues that needed to be remembered.
>
> "I can get a whole lot more impassioned about the vast number of
> internet sites that are not accessible for disabled people," said Ms
> Bradbrook. "That's a fundamental right, to access information on the
> internet."

Accessibility is important, but it's not a part of our remit. It's
something that Citizens Online is addressing, and we give them our full
support in their efforts.

> "There are people that are fundamentally being left behind and want to
> get online and they can't," she said, adding that about a third of
> Britons had never used the net.
>
> "Is this going to be about social exclusion or protecting people that
> have quite a lot anyway?" she asked. "

How much people 'have' is not the question. The right to privacy, to
free speech, to private communications - these are all fundamental
rights which are being threatened by ill-conceived legislation,
ignorance and aggressive business practices and they are entirely
separate from social exclusion issues.

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September 08, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Clarke fails to understand his own data retention proposal

Charles Clarke manages to misunderstand his own EU data retention proposal and thinks we have too many rights anyway.

From Sky News:

[Charles Clarke] told Euro MPs at the parliament in Strasbourg: "Of course criminals and terrorists use modern technology - the internet and mobile communications - to plan and carry out their activities.

"We can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs."

The data retention draft framework would require telecos and ISPs to retain traffic data - traffic about where you were when you made a call, and who you called, for example - not the actual phone call itself. Even if this legislation makes it on to the EU books, Clarke still won't be able to listen to your mobile phone conversations, although I suspect he'd really like to.

As for human rights, well, Clarke seems to think we don't really need them:

He stressed that a rethink of the [European] Convention [on Human Rights] - which prevents terror suspects being deported to countries where they may face persecution - will be central to the EU's response to the bombings.

He also made a dig at the reluctance of Euro MPs to agree access to information technology used by terrorists because of fears of breaching human rights.

He warned: "This European Parliament, as well as national parliaments, needs to face up to the fact that the legal framework within which we currently operate makes the collection and use of this intelligence very difficult, and in some cases impossible."

The legal framework which protects citizens from undue harassment, invasion of privacy and loss off free speech? That framework? I rather liked it, myself.

The BBC, meanwhile, tells us that according to the Home Office, data retention won't really cost all that much, honest guv:

A Home Office dossier published on Wednesday - entitled Liberty and Security: Striking the Right Balance - hits back at industry fears the cost of retention would be excessive.

It says that a government-funded project by a mobile phone company to keep data for 12 months had cost £875,999 (1,291m euros).

I'd like to see independent and comprehensive studies completed for a number of telecos and ISPs before I believed that this isn't going to put smaller ISPs out of business and increase our phone bills.

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September 06, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Introducing The Open Rights Group

After six weeks locked in the shed at the bottom of the NTK garden, wherein much deliberation, discussion and a small amount of bodily harm (non-grievous) took place, we finally have a name. I bring you... The Open Rights Group.

We were going to scribble it on the back on an envelope and pass it round, as per our normal working methodology, but we figured that this temporary blog could possibly do the job just as well. We will set up a permanent home on the web, so until then this rough and ready lean-to I whipped up just now will have to do.

So, what news of ORG, as we now like to be called? Whither our efforts this last few weeks?

Well, pretty much the first thing that we did was rope in a bunch of co-conspirators, so we now have on board:

  • Danny O'Brien
  • Ian Brown
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Rufus Pollock
  • Louise Ferguson
  • Stef Magdalinski
  • Suw Charman

We've also been having surreptitious chats with a few other people, twisting a few arms, and hope to announce some more names soon, just as soon as the plaster has set.

High on our agenda has been figuring out what it is that we're actually going to do. Pledging to 'fight for your digital rights' is all well and good, but it does sound a bit like a second-rate Beastie Boys track. We want to do something a bit more substantial than throw tantrums and nick VW badges, so here's our back-of-the-napkin manifesto for reclaiming you digital rights:

The Open Rights Group is committed to protecting your digital rights, to fighting bad legislation both in the UK and Europe, and to fostering a grassroots community of volunteers dedicated to campaigning on digital rights issues.

Your civil and human rights are being eroded in the digital realm. Government, big business and industry bodies are taking liberties with your digital liberties, actions they could never get away with in the "real" world.

Our goals are:
  • to raise awareness within the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to campaign to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture and assist a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts
Your right to privacy is being eroded by the government's ill-conceived ID card scheme, by biometric passports and the threat of vehicle tracking systems. Your right to free speech and freedom to use digital media is under threat from corporations who believe that 'fair use' of copyrighted works should exist only at their sufferance. Your right to private life and correspondence is under threat from a proposed European directive to log traffic and geographical data for every call you make, every SMS you send, every email you write, every website you visit.

It is essential in this time of international tension and uncertainty that we vigourously defend our digital civil liberties, ensuring that the our hard-won freedoms are not taken away simply because they've moved to the digital world.

We still have a lot to do and a lot to sort out, before the pledge matures, but we're on the case. I'll be posting here with news to keep you up to date with what we're doing, and will be keeping my eye out on the digital rights issues that come onto my radar.

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September 02, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

Er, hello? Can you hear me at the back there?

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August 26, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

BBC Radio 5 interview now up online

The interview I did with Kevin Anderson for BBC Radio 5 Pods and Blogs show is now up online, for a limited time only. It will likely be replaced some time around Monday 29 Aug-ish, when the next show goes out at which point I'll post/podcast the MP3 of my 10 minute segment.

The nice thing about blogging this, though, is that I can correct a slip of my tongue. I said that 1.6 billion AOL customer records were stolen, but in fact it was 1.6 billion Acxiom customer records. I have no idea why Acxiom morphed into AOL in my head, but at least I can clarify that here.

UPDATE: My section is now online as an mp3 and in Ogg Vorbis format (thanks JG).

(Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.)

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