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 Previously orders were unpublished.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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April 23, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

#GE2015 Thank You

We know that candidates are very busy with canvassing, emails and public meetings. They are being asked to talk on lots of different topics to lots of different audiences all the time. That's why we are very grateful to all the candidates, groups and politicans who took the time to come along to one of husting events and answer question on digital rights.

Thank you!

Brighton husting crowd


Candidates we'd like to thank

Manchester Central

Rosa Battle (Labour Councillor for Beswick and Openshaw) in place of Labour and Co-op candidate Lucy Powell @rosa_battle @LucyMPowell
Xingang Wang (Conservative) @XXingang
Kieran Turner-Dave (Green) @ktd_91
Myles Power (UKIP) @myleslgpower
Loz Kaye (Pirate Party) @LozKaye
Alex Davidson (TUSC) @AlexDavidson82
Paul Davies (Communist League)
38 Degrees Manchester
Equality North West @equalitynrthwst


Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) @CLeslieMP
Justin Quinell (Green), @justin_quinnell
Darren Jones (Labour) @darrenpjones
Clare Campion-Smith (Liberal Democrat)
Michael Frost (UKIP) @TheFrostReport
Anne Lemon (TUSC)
Greater Bristol Alliance

Caroline Lucas (Green) @CarolineLucas
Purna Sen (Labour) @Purna_Sen
Clarence Mitchell (Conservative) @mitch_1uk
Chris Bowers (Liberal Democrat) @chris1bowers
Nigel Carter (UKIP) @NigelCarterUKIP
Howard Pilott (The Socialist Party of Great Britain)
Nick Yeomans (Independent)

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April 17, 2015 | Ed Johnson-Williams

Surveillance in the General Election Manifestos

Nearly all of the main parties at this General Election have now published their manifestos. Where do the parties’ manifestos stand on surveillance?

We’ve picked out the most relevant parts from their manifestos on surveillance.

You can read more of what the parties have said in their manifestos on all the issues relevant to ORG on our wiki. There are also links to the original documents so you can have a look at them.


We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy. This is why Labour argued for an independent review, currently being undertaken by David Anderson. We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.

Labour have provided a rather vague statement on their plans. They call for “strengthening the powers available” but it isn’t clear which powers they think need strengthening. We are also unclear on which safeguards they think need to be put into place to protect people’s privacy. Improving oversight of the intelligence agencies is an important area to reform. In our view though, it is also important that the powers and capabilities of the intelligence agencies, as revealed by Edward Snowden, are limited to targeted surveillance on people suspected of crimes. Labour have not committed to any change to the bulk collection of our internet use that GCHQ currently undertakes. It is disappointing that a party which makes so much of its support for the Human Rights Act elsewhere in its manifesto does not see the human rights of privacy, freedom of speech and association as important enough to change its approach to state surveillance.


We will keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication, but not its content. Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops. We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers.

[W]e will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistle-blowers and other sources without prior judicial approval.

The Conservatives want to increase the surveillance powers available to the police and intelligence agencies. Like Labour, there is no detail on which powers they would strengthen in particular. They say they will introduce "new communications data legislation" which we can only assume is a revamped Communications Data Bill - commonly known as the Snoopers' Charter. The bulk collection of the content of our communications revealed in the documents released by Edward Snowden is not addressed. It is right that police should need judicial approval before they can access journalists’ phone records but judicial authorisation for surveillance should be sought before surveillance on all of us, not just journalists. There is no explicit mention of David Cameron's previously stated principle that all communications should be accessible by the state even when they have been encrypted.

Liberal Democrats

We will:

  • Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.
  • Ensure proper oversight of the security services.
  • Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.
  • Oppose the introduction of the so-called Snooper’s Charter. We blocked the draft Communications Data Bill and would do so again. Requiring companies to store a record of everyone’s internet activities for a year or to collect third-party communications data for non-business purposes is disproportionate and unacceptable, as is the blanket surveillance of our paper post.
  • Set stricter limits on surveillance and consider carefully the outcomes of the reviews we initiated on surveillance legislation by the Royal United Services Institute and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC. We are opposed to the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or the intelligence agencies. Access to metadata, live content, or the stored content of personal communications must only take place without consent where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or to prevent threats to life.
  • Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online.

The Liberal Democrats give much greater detail on what they would like to see on the issue of surveillance than Labour or the Conservatives. This should be welcomed. We are happy to see that they oppose the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or intelligence agencies. It will be interesting to see whether they retain their opposition to blanket collection if the reports mentioned above in their manifesto do not share their position. There is also a good commitment to the right to use strong encryption online. We welcome the Liberal Democrat’s call for judicial authorisation before journalists' communications data is accessed but we think this should be necessary before bulk collection of our communications is carried out.

Scottish National Party

We do not support Tory plans for the reintroduction of the so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’, which would see all online activity of every person in the UK stored for a year. Instead, we need a proportionate response to extremism. That is why we will support targeted, and properly overseen, measures to identify suspected extremists and, if necessary, examine their online activity and communications.

It is good to see that the SNP opposes the Snoopers' Charter on the grounds that storing everyone's online activity is a disproportionate response to extremism. Their support for surveillance being targeted at the online activity of those identified as suspects is very welcome. We hope that they would apply these principles to their position on surveillance legislation in the future.



Currently, British intelligence is fragmented between a number of agencies, including MI5, MI6, GCHQ and BBC Monitoring. All have different funding streams and report to different government departments. This generates a significant overlap in work and resources and risks exposing gaps in the system.

UKIP will create a new over-arching role of Director of National Intelligence (subject to confirmation hearing by the relevant Commons Select Committee), who will be charged with reviewing UK intelligence and security, in order to ensure threats are identified, monitored and dealt with by the swiftest, most appropriate and legal means available. He or she will be responsible for bringing all intelligence services together; developing cyber security measures; cutting down on waste and encouraging information and resource sharing.

At our recent civil liberties hustings in Brighton Pavilion, the UKIP candidate said that his party opposes “all general surveillance”. There is no sign of that in their manifesto. They say nothing about which surveillance powers GCHQ should have, how they should be overseen and how they should get authorisation. There are currently two reviews of surveillance being carried out and their manifesto mentions neither of them. It is surprising, to say the least, that after nearly two years of news about GCHQ surveillance, UKIP’s only response is that there are too many intelligence agencies and that too many resources are being wasted.

Green Party of England and Wales

We would:

  • Oppose any case for secret unaccountable mass surveillance of the type exposed by Edward Snowden. We do accept that government law enforcement agencies may occasionally need to intercept communications in specific circumstances. Such specific surveillance should be proportionate, necessary, effective and within the rule of law, with independent judicial approval and genuine parliamentary oversight.
  • Replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which has failed
    • to regulate the deployment of undercover police;
    • to support the confidentiality of journalistic sources;
    • to support legal confidentiality; and
    • to enshrine an open and effective right of redress.

The Green Party have released a manifesto with very strong commitments on surveillance reform in line with the calls of the Don’t Spy On Us campaign. They are the only party to mention Edward Snowden in their manifesto! Their calls for targeted surveillance that is proportionate and with independent judicial authorisation are very welcome. They also note the problem that victims of inappropriate surveillance do not currently have a right of redress; another of the Don’t Spy On Us principles.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru have not included anything about surveillance in their manifesto.


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April 07, 2015 | Elizabeth Knight

Status of data retention in the EU following the CJEU ruling - update April 2015

In December 2014 ORG prepared a table showing the status of data retention in the EU, following the CJEU's decision in the Digital Rights Ireland case. We have now updated the table to show the position in April 2015.

We prepared the chart using information provided by member organisations of EDRi (European Digital Rights). Many thanks to all those who contributed.

The table can be found here. 

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March 19, 2015 | Lydia Snodin

Digital Rights Are For Everyone, Including Young People.

On Saturday 14th March, Open Rights Group ran workshops with young women about online privacy. Read about what teenage girls had to say about digital rights and why we should listen to them.

When I was 17 I skipped an afternoon of sixth form to join the Open Rights Group outside parliament to protest the Digital Economy Bill. That was in 2010; I didn't know that five years on I'd actually be working for ORG campaigning on these issues! It's understandable but misguided to assume that young people don't care about digital rights. But you don't have to take my word for it as we recently spoke to 50 young women about digital rights!

On Saturday we ran a series of interactive workshops at Being Watched, an all day conference for young women, aimed at helping them to regain control in the online world. It was organised for Empowerment People by Jo Lane (who promotes healthy and safe relationships through Inspire Safer Futures) in partnership with other community groups such as Feminist Webs that do fantastic work empowering young women. I encourage you to have a look at their work.

During our four sessions, we spoke to teenage girls about how people lose control of information about themselves online. Within five minutes of the opening workshop we were getting questions about whether Facebook could read their messages, and it only got more interesting. 

ORG's Communications Director Pam Cowburn (left) and Local Groups Co-ordinator Lydia Snodin (right) introduce the workshop. Photo Taken By: Najah Jane Morris

Drawing inspiration from a Tactical Technology Collective project, we asked everyone to draw their 'digital shadow', meaning a shadow representing the applications and programmes which were storing information about them. See the pictures below to see what our wonderful participants came up with! I couldn't include all the great ones here, the rest of them (and more photos from the day) are on our Flickr.

Teenage girl drawing her 'Digital Shadow' Photo: Jo Lane

50 teenage girls gave up their Saturday to discuss the topics ORG campaigns on. Not only that but they were interested, engaged and made a lot of valuable contributions to the debate on online privacy. We covered ideas like striking the balance between convenience and personal privacy, how pressing 'delete' doesn't always mean what we think it does and the security services and mass surveillance.

It's not true that young people don't consider online privacy and more broadly digital rights. All we need to do is give them the tools to start thinking about the more hidden side of the internet and they'll work the rest out themselves.

As well as online security workshops for young people, we're also developing them for journalists, lawyers and activists. With your help we can continue running bigger and better sessions, not only to spread our message but so we can hear what digital rights mean to different groups.

Talking to the young women about what privacy means to them. Photo: Najah Jane Morris

Please support ORG by joining today:

Thank you for helping us campaign!


Local Groups Co-ordinator at Open Rights Group

Credits: Images by Jo Lane and Najah Jane Morris - thanks to them for letting us include them in this article.

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March 19, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

Why do digital rights matter?

Today we're asking our members and supporters to tell us why digital rights matter, and to help us fundraise for our work.

This isn't just a question for our members, so I asked the staff in our office what motivates them and their campaigning for digital rights:

“I love the Internet. I grew up on it, and like many of us watched it evolve from the whirring sounds of dial-up on a massive computer, to reading the news on my smart phone. I love it because it opened my eyes. Without the teen forum on world issues I wouldn’t have learnt about feminism and campaigning, and without the call to listen on Twitter I wouldn’t have been able to see the police violence in Ferguson or the protests in Gezi Park as they happened. That’s why I think it is vital that we all campaign against online censorship and surveillance. The Internet should be a place where the marginalized are able to have a powerful voice, amplified across the world, not suppressed and silenced by governments and companies through secretive web blocking and surveillance.”
-Ruth Coustick-Deal, Supporter Officer

"Digital rights are human rights. I’ve always been passionate about promoting human rights, across a range of issues including migrants’ rights and women’s rights. The Snowden revelations made me realise that surveillance is currently the greatest threat to human rights in the UK. As our use of digital technology increases, so does the importance of ensuring our rights to privacy and freedom of expression are protected. I believe in fighting to enforce our fundamental human rights in the face of mass surveillance by government agencies. I also believe in fighting for protection of our personal data in the face of companies' thirst for data. For me, fighting for digital rights means claiming what is ours."
-Elizabeth Knight, Legal Director

 "We used to talk about two separate worlds: the real and the virtual. Their convergence has opened a new front in the fight for human rights - a front no less important to us now than our historical struggles for equality, privacy, freedom and security. Why do I believe #DigitalRightsMatter? Because the internet is real life."
-Richard King, Project manager

"When I was at university, I barely used a computer until one day I did a course called 'The Information Superhighway for Arts Students'. I don’t think the phrase digital rights existed back then and I certainly never imagined that I would one day work for a digital rights organisation. But you don't need to be a digital native or even tech savvy to think that digital rights matter. You just need to care about human rights and want to live in a world where your rights to privacy and free speech are protected. #DigitalRightsMatter because they are for everyone"
-Pam Cowburn, Communications Director

"Our lives are increasingly mediated by digital technologies with far reaching consequences. These technologies can be a force for good, but the story is still in the making, with nobody certain of how it will end.

The original grand visions where the internet would bring universal access to knowledge have been challenged by established cultural industries and their political lackeys. But these industries are also supported by well-meaning politicians concerned about jobs, as whole economic sectors become de-localised.

New technologies break down the barriers that have kept humanity within national borders for hundreds of years, but are also used by sectarians, criminals and bigots to reach a global audience.

With our new freedoms we should learn our new responsibilities However, governments of all hues are building paternalistic and socially divisive mass surveillance systems. They hope to get away with it because they can mirror the data monopolies of big internet businesses, built on the promise of convenience.

The fascination with technology can takes us to a black and white world that either mindlessly celebrates disruption or wishes the clock could be turned back. In my work at ORG I try to promote the best that the digital world can offer us, while trying to navigate the grey areas."
-Javier Ruiz, Policy Director

"In 2010, I skipped an afternoon of sixth form to join ORG's Digital Economy Bill protest outside parliament. My understanding then was quite a black and white 'the internet is good, taking it away is bad' approach. What I think now is still pretty similar – although a bit more nuanced! Digital Rights are important because open and free access to the internet is lifeline for people in need. My teenage years would have been much more difficult without access to websites where I could read about anything and everything. The internet is a lifeline that we need to protect."
-Lydia Snodin, Local Groups Coordinator

Tell us why you believe in digital rights! Join the conversation:

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March 19, 2015 | Jim Killock

Why are digital rights important?

What are digital rights? And why do they matter? Executive Director Jim Killock gives an overview of why these principles are key right now.

Digital rights are your human rights in the digital age. They are one of the most important aspects of your human rights today: privacy and free expression online are among the most contested. The digital rights movement exists because we need people to understand how technology is shaping our rights, for good and for ill, and who it is who is seeking to employ and capture technology for their benefit rather than yours.

Let’s take a few examples. Privacy is one of your most important rights. Yet most people tend to think of privacy as a question of private life, the choices you make about your person and the things that make you uncomfortable. In the digital world, privacy is a question of personal information, automated judgements and profiling. Many people want to know everything they can about you, because they can – or hope they can – make money out of this. GCHQ perhaps wants to know if you are a threat; and they help the NSA get to know you in case you are politically or economically interesting.

Privacy in a digital age is about political and economic assessment. Personal information is at the root of many power structures and our relationships with government and private companies.

While it is often of benefit for this information to be used, we should be making the choices over how it is used, except in very extreme circumstances.

To take another right, free expression in a digital age is of course benefiting from a huge surge of new ways to communicate. This is a revolution, the most positive side to the digital story. It is not, however, without its problems. UK laws still criminalise ‘grossly offensive’ speech, and at the same time there are victims of sustained campaigns of harassment on social media whose abuse can be dismissed by police as too difficult or costly to prioritise.

The result is that increasingly we expect companies to judge the boundaries of speech, including anonymous speech. This can be very problematic.

Governments too try to limit speech, and often want to do this with limited or no accountability. Extremist content in the UK is taken down by government making requests to companies to remove it under their terms and conditions. A court is never involved. Is this appropriate or accountable? Lists of blocked and removed material are not available, even under freedom of information.

ORG is often making simple arguments about transparency and accountability. As with copyright blocking, these are arguments we can and do win. Even in relation to surveillance, the Intelligence and Security Committee (a parlimentary body whose role is to provide over sight of intelligence activity) has shown that the battle for greater transparency and accountability is one we can win. We are taking action in the courts, which also show we can win the battle for limited and targeted surveillance.

The real battles however are political. That is why a movement is required.

Political change requires social change, which needs education, discussion and arguments to be won.

That is why ORG needs you: both to help us make the case on your behalf, at the highest level to politicians and the media, and to empower you to explain what needs to be done to friends, family and to your elected politicians. Together we have a voice that matters, and that is why you should join today.

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: Electronic Voting: An idea whose time has come to go away-->
  • April 05: ORG Glasgow: A discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • March 29: ORG Aberdeen: March Cryptonoise event
  • ORG North East: Take control of your online life
  • ORG Cambridge: Monthly March Meetup