July 09, 2015 | Maxine Chng

DRIPA challenge in court today

The challenge to DRIPA brought by David Davis and Tom Watson was discussed in court today, as the government sought to refer key questions to the EU courts.

Last year, Tom Watson MP and David Davis MP representing Liberty, brought judicial review proceedings to challenge the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). Earlier this year, ORG and PI were granted permission by court to intervene and made points about European law. Initially focusing on a question of compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the proceedings now concentrate on DRIPA's conformity with EU law, particularly Article 15 of the ePrivacy Directive.

Generally, the ePrivacy Directive provides for the individual right to confidentiality, erasure and anonymity of one's communication data. Article 15 sets out an exception, whereby Member States can restrict those rights when “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to safeguard, among others: national security, defence and public security. ORG and PI highlighted in our interveners' submission that the Courts of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) had already set out the requirements that domestic law must follow in order to comply with Article 15.

Since then however, the government had requested for a reference from the CJEU to clarify how the DRI decision affects UK law. A hearing was held at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday morning to determine if the request for reference should indeed be granted.

The government claimed that the CJEU's decision in DRI was in relation to a different legal context, as it was made in reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. On the other hand, the current case tests DRIPA's compatibility with the ECHR or ePrivacy Directive.

Liberty opposed the government's request for a reference, concerned that a reference from the CJEU would only delay the judicial review proceedings. They contend that the relevant principles of EU law are already clear and have been fully considered by the CJEU in DRI. The court agreed and rejected the reference request. A draft judgment is expected to be issued next week.

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June 23, 2015 | Ed Johnson-Williams

Net Neutrality in Europe in danger

Net neutrality is under threat in Europe and we urgently need your help before 29th June!

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers should treat all data on the Internet equally. It's about minimising the restrictions on which parts of the Internet you can access. And it's about allowing startups to compete with big Internet firms and supporting innovation in the digital economy.

Shortly before the European Parliament elections last May, MEPs voted with a large majority in favour of net neutrality. The vote was a major step towards protecting the open internet in Europe. But then the European Council - which is made up of the Member states of the European Union - hammered out their version of what net neutrality rules they wanted. And it turns out that their version of net neutrality is not worthy of that name.

The Council's text could allow Internet Service Providers to charge customers and companies extra for receiving and delivering different types of online services. Only those who pay more will have easy access to an audience online. It would also authorise blocking of lawful content. This is completely counter to net neutrality and contradicts the Parliament's position.

The Council and the Parliament have been negotiating the final text of the new net neutrality rules for the last few months. And we've seen the Parliament give in to the Council's demands time and again while the Council has given up almost nothing. The Parliament have even conceded on the definition of net neutrality. The phrase net neutrality isn't even in the most recent working text. The Council has successfully replaced it with a vague "open internet" which suggests there is a "non-open" Internet, which is worrying.

If the Council gets their way then net neutrality in Europe will be under extreme threat. The next negotiations are set for 29th June. Until now MEPs haven't heard a lot from European citizens about why they need to stand up for their previous position in support of net neutrality. They need to hear from us now so they know that this is something European citizens care about.

Can you email and tweet the MEPs who are negotiating on net neutrality? You can choose to contact an MEP from the UK using the 'Filter by country' menu.

EDRi (European Digital Rights) have been doing outstanding work tracking and campaigning on European net neutrality proposals. EDRi campaigns for digital rights in the EU and ORG is one of their members. Find out more about their excellent work on their website.

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June 11, 2015 | Pam Cowburn

Anderson review: "It is time for a clean slate"

The UK's Independent Review of Terrorism Legislation has said, “it is time for a clean slate” when it comes to surveillance law in the UK. In his report published today, David Anderson QC condemned the current legislative framework as, “fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent”.

Anderson was tasked with reviewing surveillance law as a requirement of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act – one of the concessions gained by Labour and the Lib Dems in return for their support in rushing the Bill through Parliament last July.

Anderson, unsurprisingly, does not condemn mass surveillance in principle and endorses bulk collection by the security services, but the report does call for a radical overhaul of how surveillance is regulated.

Here are some of the key points:

Legal reform: Since the Snowden revelations began two years ago, Parliament has further legislated for surveillance through DRIPA, the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and amendments to the Computer Misuse Act that legitimise hacking by the security services. Anderson's damning verdict that the law, "is variable in the protections that it affords the innocent” can't be ignored. The report says: "A comprehensive and comprehensible new law should be drafted from scratch, replacing the multitude of current powers and providing for clear limits and safeguards on any intrusive power that it may be necessary for public authorities to use."

Warrants: Under the current system, warrants for surveillance are signed off by government ministers, who are not independent. Anderson's recommendations that warrants should be signed off by judicial commissioners is a welcome shift away from politicial authorisation but it would be preferable for warrants to go through the courts and be signed by serving judges to help make sure that surveillance is 'necessary and proportionate'.

Snoopers' Charter: Anderson says that extending capabilities through a new Snoopers' Charter should only happen if there is, “a detailed operational case needs to be made out, and a rigorous assessment conducted of the lawfulness, likely effectiveness, intrusiveness and cost of requiring such data to be retained”. So far the Government hasn't made such a case. In addition, it has made a report by Sir Nigel Sheinwald top secret. That report is believed to have suggested that a new international treaty could be a legal alternative to the Snoopers' Charter.  Despite this, the Home Secretary Theresa May today told the House of Commons that the re-drafted Snoopers' Charter would be laid before Parliament in the autumn - although it would be scrutinised by a Joint Commitee.  

It is unlikely that Anderson's review and the Intelligence and Security Committee's Privacy and Security report would have happened were it not for Edward Snowden's revelations. Two years on, there are still many battles to be fought but one thing is certain - the status quo cannot continue. MPs from all parties must act to ensure that the UK has surveillance powers fit for a democracy.  

You can sign our petiton against the Snoopers Charter here.

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May 22, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

Imagine the web without hyperlinks

ORG is working with an international coalition of over 70 digital rights organisations, from Creative Commons to Thunderclap, to protect our ability to share content. The campaign is called Save the Link.

Our ability to link is under attack, and we need your help to save it!

We all love linking: passing on funny images, surprising stories, wise blog posts and sharp videos. But there are attacks to all of that on the horizon.

What's the threat?

In December 2014, Google permanently shut down the Spanish version of Google News. [1] They did this because amendments to Spanish intellectual property law imposed a compulsory fee for the use of snippets of text to link to news articles. [2]

In the EU, these same lobbyists have been working with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to pressure lawmakers to upload the same Spanish link censorship laws to the entire European Union. [3]

These laws will effectively censor summaries of news content, as well as linking to legal content.

Let’s put a stop to this right now: Add your voice to the global network to Save the Link.

Such a plan would affect over 500 million citizens’ ability to use the Internet. Imagine using Twitter and not being able to link to a news article without paying a fee. It would shut down the spread of news. This is just one way copyright is being twisted to censor the Web – but it’s far from the only way. That’s why we are part of a huge network of individuals and organizations committed to stopping these censorship plans, wherever they emerge.

The bottom line is this: every successful scheme to censor links weakens the foundation of the Internet.

Speak out now and tell public officials that we’ll fight to Save the Link.

This email is part of a global campaign called 'Save the Link' of which ORG are a member.

[1] Google News in Spain

[2] Spanish Copyright Amendments Will Shakedown News Sites and Censor the Web

[3] An EU-wide ‘Google tax’ in the making?

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May 14, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

We're 3000 strong

In the last few days over 200 people have joined ORG to become of the movement fighting back against Government plans to attack our digital rights. For the first time we have over 3000 members!

On Theresa May’s first day back in office she didn’t wait to re-arrange her desk plants, but instead committed to her favourite piece of legislation: The Snoopers’ Charter. [1] It's a discredited Bill that Parliament said gave insufficient attention to our human rights. It would give the powers of GCHQ to the Police. We don't yet know when it's going to happen, but we do know that we need to be ready for the big announcement.

And this law is just one in a long list of goals the Government have to attack our digital rights:

  • Scrapping the Human Rights Act.
  • Requiring Internet service providers to block websites.
  • Enabling employers to check whether an individual is an extremist.
  • Making every message readable by the state - even when we've encrypted it.
  • We're also worried that they may revive plans for a universally applied block list of extremist sites.
  • And they just announced yet another counter-terrorism bill which is expected to contain more restrictions on free speech, such as to require "extremists" to ask the police for permission to post on the Internet. [2] 

We have some tough fights ahead, including winning over as many Conservative MPs as possible to our side.

Can you join ORG to help us win?

We might not have the tempering influence of the Lib Dems to keep the Home Office in check:
But this time what we have is you.

In the past few days, 200 people joined ORG or increased their donation when they heard the annoucement.

In 2013 we saw the Snoopers’ Charter declared dead after a year of campaigning. Then earlier this year 4 House of Lords peers tried to sneak it in again by adding 18 pages of amendments to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. It was thanks to a quick response by ORG supporters, that it was stopped both times. For the first time ORG has over 3000 members: with all of us working together we can stop it again.

Just this week a group of our supporters met together in London to plan local activism in the fight against the Snoopers’ Charter, and we'll be announcing more actions in a couple of days.

Can you commit £5/month to support our work?

Thank you,

[1] The Independent - Snoopers' charter set to return to law as Theresa May suggests Conservative majority could lead to huge increase in surveillance powers [2] David Cameron to unveil new limits on extremists' activities in Queen's speech

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May 08, 2015 | Ed Johnson-Williams

This Government will put the Snoopers Charter and more back on the table

Could the threat to our digital rights and the Internet be any greater?

 Against all expectations the Conservatives have won an absolute majority in the General Election. They will be able to propose whichever new laws they like. And if all the Conservative MPs vote together, they will be able to pass whichever laws they like.

Theresa May has already said this morning that she will use this majority to pass a new Snoopers' Charter. The light at the end of the tunnel is that the Conservatives' majority is tiny. Their leadership will have to work incredibly hard to secure a majority for new laws. Every MP's vote will count and this presents a huge opportunity for campaigns like ORG's to influence what happens.

What are the Conservatives likely to try to legislate on now? Their manifesto says that they would:

  • introduce "new communications data legislation" - also known as the Snoopers' Charter,
  • "scrap the Human Rights Act",
  • "require internet service providers to block sites",
  • "enable employers to check whether an individual is an extremist",
  • "requir[e] age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material" - which is very difficult to implement

And David Cameron has said that every message we send should be readable by the state - even when we've encrypted it.

This is clearly a bad list of policies for digital rights supporters and we're going to fight them every step of the way. The Conservatives have a very small majority so if we work hard enough and persuade enough MPs, we can protect our digital rights and the Internet.

We can do it, but we need your help.

Can you join ORG today and give £5 a month to help us fight for digital rights at this incredibly challenging time?

And if you're already a paying supporter, could you consider increasing your monthly donation?

Please share this blogpost by email and social media too.

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April 29, 2015 | Elizabeth Knight

Does the Popcorn Time judgment put other software distribution sites at risk?

The High Court has blocked another group of websites for reasons relating to copyright infringement, at the demand of members of the Motion Picture Association of America. In one sense the judgment and related blocking order for Popcorn Time constitute an improvement on the usual position of orders granted under Section 97A Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The blocking order is appended to the judgment, which improves transparency, something that ORG has been campaigning for as part of our 451 Unavailable project. Previously orders were unpublished. This development means that ORG and others may no longer have to go through the process of obtaining court orders from the High Court. This assumes that the judgments themselves continue to be published, which has not always been the case.

The blocking order also includes safeguards regarding information that must be made available to Internet users. Again this is welcome. It follows the Cartier case, in which ORG intervened and successfully argued that safeguards must be included in blocking orders. The Popcorn Time order again requires ISPs to tell customers that access has been blocked by court order, to identify the parties who obtained the order and to state that affected users have the right to apply to court to challenge the order.

However, it is not all good news. The Popcorn Time blocks represent the first time Section 97A orders have been used to block access to a new type of sites, namely sites that distribute software and do not link to infringing content. This raises the question of whether the judgment could set a precedent for the blocking of other sites that distribute software, such as any other BitTorrent client. In ORG’s view it should not be assumed that all such sites will be blocked.  Mr. Justice Birss emphasized that the Popcorn Time application is used in order to watch pirated content on the Internet and indeed it is also manifest that that is its purpose. No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content.”1

The judge found that the operators of the websites allowing downloading of the Popcorn Time do not commit an act of communicating copyright works to the public. Rather the sites make available a tool. The judge also did not accept that the operators of the Popcorn Time download sites were authorizing infringement by the operators of the host websites. But he decided that the suppliers of the Popcorn Time applications are jointly liable (as joint tortfeasors). Mr. Justice Birss found that “suppliers of Popcorn Time have a common design with the operators of the host websites to secure the communication to the public of the claimants' protected works, thereby infringing copyright.”2

It appears that the same reasoning would apply to other websites that allow the download of software such as BitTorrent clients. However, the Judge again emphasized, “the point of Popcorn Time is to infringe copyright. The Popcorn Time application has no legitimate purpose.” This suggests that if a piece of software also has a legitimate purpose, separate from the infringement of copyright, then it is less likely to be blocked. In the current case we believe the judge was probably correct to conclude that the software was the key means of allowing users to access the infringing websites, but we are concerned that this may not always be the case with future blocking applications. Many torrents have a legitimate use.

It appears that the court has applied a reasonable test. Judges will need to be careful in future when applying the test, as this is a complicated issue and most software is multi-purpose. In this case the software has been designed and integrated with web services that are solely designed to target infringing commercial content. Of course with any software there is the possibility of repurposing what it does. It would be wrong, for instance, to block the source code of the applications, or the underlying protocols and technologies such as BitTorrent.

Further decentralisation could make blocking even harder, as it is centralised points that can be targeted by blocking.

ORG will continue to monitor and publish details of website blocks at  We will be looking carefully at future judgments that target new technologies as they are an area of particular risk.

2: ibid, paragraph 55

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April 27, 2015 | Pam Cowburn

General Election 2015: What do MPs think about mass surveillance?

Like the British public, the vast majority of MPs had no idea about the extent of bulk data collection by the security services when whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke out. With the election pending, what do parliamentary candidates think there needs to be done about mass surveillance?

Post Snowden, there has been little parliamentary debate and no opportunity for MPs to vote on whether current levels of surveillance are acceptable in a democracy. 

There have been individual MPs across all parties who have spoken out about surveillance - most notably Tom Watson MP, David Davis MP and Julian Huppert MP. (Disclaimer: Tom Watson and Julian Huppert are on ORG's advisory council.) But the closest we've had to a debate about surveilance took place when the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) was forced through parliament in less than a week. A number of MPs objected to way that this legislation was rushed through but the vast majority followed the whip for cross-party support. 

MPs are not immune to the effects of surveillance, despite the Wilson Doctrine that states that their communications should not be recorded by the state.  Jeremy Corbyn, who led the vote against the fast-tracking of DRIP, along with Dianne Abbott, Harriet Harman, Jack Straw, the late Bernie Grant and others, were monitored by Scotland Yard in the 1990s. More recently, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling apologised for the monitoring of confidential phone calls between 32 MPs and prisoners. 

But what do the next Government's MPs think? Are parliamentary candidates prepared to do something about surveillance if elected? The parties have published their manifestos but we think voters should be able to find out what their candidates think. With help from 89up and some fantastic people from Grit Digital, we've created a tool that will help you to find that out. We've emailed every parliamentary candidate and asked them: "How would you reform surveillance law, oversight and practice to respect the rights of law-abiding people?"

You can find their answers here. Just enter your postcode and see what responses are there. If candidates haven't responded yet, you can get a summary of their party's position from their manifesto. 

ORG is also encouraging people to contact candidates directly to encourage them to commit to reforming surveillance. This is the first election since the Snowden revelations and it's time for our MPs to realise that voters do care about surveillance. We want to know whether they are prepared to stand up to our rights if elected.

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