February 26, 2015 | Jim Killock

GCHQ is damaging businesses and the digital economy – we need your help

Politicians are often deaf to arguments against mass surveillance. They will talk about encryption as if it’s for criminals, and tell people that “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”.

But it is the Internet economy that is at risk, just as much as our civil liberties. Politicians need to know this.

Digital businesses should be fearing for the future. According to the government, GCHQ has apparently done nothing substantially wrong. Hacking into legitimate businesses, stealing data or SIM encryption keys is ok. Owning Belgacom’s networks with GCHQ malware is just targeting terrorists. Who cares if it costs them £12 million to clean up the mess GCHQ has made?

Digital businesses depend on customer trust, including trust of encryption tools, which are used for all kinds of secure transactions. Cloud services need to be trusted as secure, rather than surveillance platforms, or they won’t be used.

But is any of this being heard? On the one hand, the government says that Britain needs to be a digital success story, and promotes projects like “Silicon Roundabout”. On the other, it is undermining the very basics you rely on, like the rule of law, Internet security and customer trust.

The government’s story on digital economy doesn’t make sense. None of the parties seem to be spelling this out. So we need your help. 

We need people in business to help us publicly by explaining in the press, and to key politicians, that GCHQ cannot carry on in this way without seriously damaging the online economy.

If you have experience of this, or simply think politicians are getting this wrong, and are willing to speak up, please let us know.

Email us, send us your telephone number, and we’ll talk with you about how you can help politicians understand the damage they are creating to jobs and the digital economy.

[Read more]

February 25, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

CITIZENFOUR: Best documentary of 2014 on tonight

The Oscar and BAFTA winning CITIZENFOUR will be shown on Channel 4 tonight. The film shows the scale of the surveillance undertaken by the intelligence agencies behind our backs, and the story of Edward Snowden.

Flyer promoting CITIZENFOUR

In response to Edward Snowden’s revelations that GCHQ and the NSA were invading the privacy of ordinary citizens through programmes unknown to the public, and to the politicians, ORG joined with Article 19, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Liberty, and Privacy International to form the Don't Spy on Us coalition.

Today, the Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary CITIZENFOUR will be shown on Channel 4, and we encourage you to watch it and spread the word.

Pre-film live Q&A: 9pm on Twitter. Join the conversation on #CITIZENFOUR with experts from the Don’t Spy On Us campaign and journalist Ewen MacAskill from the Guardian. There is a live-blog on the Q&A with the audience reaction here.

Citizen Four: 11.05pm, Channel Four

Months into the production of CITIZENFOUR, already underway as a surveillance documentary, Edward Snowden contacted Laura to tell her he wished to blow the whistle on the NSA’s programmes. What followed was one of the most remarkable scoops in the history of film-making, an achievement recognised by the Oscar for 'best documentary'. You can read why the Oscar matters here.

We’d really appreciate it if you could help us to spread the word and let people know that the film will be showing on Channel 4 at 23:05 on the 25th February. You can either tweet about it or reach out to people via other social media platforms.

The film really brings home the scale of the surveillance undertaken by the intelligence agencies behind our backs. With just over two months until the General Election, it's important that as many people as possible see the CitizenFour.

Click on the image below to retweet and support the film:

Britdoc Tweet promoting CITIZENFOUR

[Read more]

February 25, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

Election funding update: half way there!

On January 10 we launched a new campaign to fund our election work. Today we are 50% of the way there! Read about why we are doing it and how you can help.

We launched our campaign to fund our election work on the 10th January with the goal of 300 new supporters

We're excited to announce we are now 50% of the way towards our goal!



It’s working! We’ve got some real momentum going, and together we can achieve this huge goal.

Our recent launch of ORG Scotland shows the impact becoming a member has: we've just ran our first campaign that focuses on Scotland's laws and government and we're about to hire a Scotland Officer. This  means that we are able to speak to MSPs about privacy, free speech and more. Our members made it happen!

This is why joining matters. Every person who joins works together to build a UK movement for digital rights.

Thank you for sharing the campaign with your friends and getting involved, but there is still a long way to go. Please join if you haven’t already.  

What can we do now?

With 150 new members we can really put the pressure on to make the next Government protect our rights online:

  • We’re now teaming up with Global Justice Now and other NGOs to run hustings for your MP candidates. These events make sure you can ask your candidates tough questions on civil liberties. They’re a great opportunity to get involved directly in ORG’s work and learn more about which candidates will defend your rights. Date announcements are coming soon and we hope you’ll come along.
  • We're creating guides and question cards to the current laws on surveillance so that when a politician rings your doorbell you're empowered to talk comfortably and confidently about these issues.

But with another 150 supporters we can do even more.

  • Build an online tool which tells you where your local candidates stand on privacy and surveillance.
  • Hold briefing meetings with candidates to put digital rights in the minds of new MPs. If we can meet with lots of new politicians it will give us better contact with parliament and help raise digital rights concerns at the very start of their terms.

In this critical election year we need you more than ever, so that all our rights are defended here in the UK.

Can you donate £5/month to support our election campaigning?

We are offering a free copy of Becky Hogge’s A Guide to the Internet for Human Rights Defenders to all who join this month.

Why does our work matter?

Last month there was a sneaky attempt to legalise more powers for the police and security services to track our behaviour. Abusing our democratic process, a group of 4 Lords tried to put the text of the Communications Data Bill into another law, by calling it an ‘amendment’. Only this was 18 pages of clauses containing a Bill that had been dropped after widespread criticism and a damning report.

This kind of behaviour shows how important it is for ORG to monitor parliament, raise awareness and mobilise our supporters to work together to defend our rights.

Unfortunately we don’t always have the capacity to run the campaigns we want to. The Internet is where everything takes place, dating, shopping, social interactions - and we all have a stake in making it a safe space. This is why we are asking for you to take this opportunity to join ORG.

What else can you do?

Please do share, encourage others to join and even sign-up yourself if you haven’t already:

  • Persuade a friend to join ORG and we will give you a free gift.
  • Already a supporter? Tell us why! If you have any blogs or videos about why you support us on these issues we'd love to share them.
  • Get involved with our work.

[Read more]

February 09, 2015 | Javier Ruiz

Hate speech social media bans may not be the answer

Parliamentary report on antisemitism calls for protection orders used to ban sex offenders from using the internet to be extended to hate crime. But these should be used to prevent serious harm, not as punishment for hate speech in general.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism has recently published a major report raising concerns on the rise of attacks on Jewish people in the UK. Some of its recommendations are fairly straightforward, such as funding for securing synagogues, but others may have far reaching consequences:

There is an allowance in the law for banning or blocking individuals from certain aspects of internet communication in relation to sexual offences. Informal feedback we have received from policy experts indicates that this is a potential area of exploration for prosecutors in relation to hate crime. If it can be proven in a detailed way that someone has made a considered and determined view to exploit various online networks to harm and perpetrate hate crimes against others then the accepted principles, rules and restrictions that are relevant to sex offences must surely apply.

We recommend that the Crown Prosecution Service undertakes a review to examine the applicability of prevention orders to hate crime offences and if appropriate, take steps to implement them.

The report refers to Sexual Offences Protection Orders (SOPOs).

These are designed to protect the public or individuals from “serious sexual harm”, which can include psychological harm. They are seen as very serious restrictions and cannot be used to punish general behaviours. Breaching an order can lead to up to 5 years in prison.

A court must administer these orders, which last for a minimum of 5 years; in most cases after sentencing. But police can apply for one if they have cautioned someone and believe there is a further risk. The court should carry out a risk assessment to see that the orders are necessary and proportionate. The court should also ensure that the orders are enforceable.

The antisemitic behaviours reported in media outlets are absolutely hateful, such as the use of a hash tag saying “Hitler was right”. But hateful as they may be, many of these instances of hate speech would appear to lack a demonstrable risk of escalation into specific attacks or even more targeted hate speech. This could make it difficult to justify a “protection order” against future behaviour, even if the offenders were to be sentenced and punished for their previous behaviour. Deterrent punishment should not be substituted by a protection order.

There have been lots of problems with SOPOs, as many have been drafted with excessive and unenforceable terms. Restrictions on internet use have been a particular problem with these orders. Courts have refused to accept that offenders should be prevented from “using the internet other than for work, study or finding employment”, though some courts have made orders asking that offenders keep internet histories for inspection.

From the experience with SOPOs, it is very unclear that using such orders for broad restrictions on social media would be seen as proportionate.

These orders require considerable resources from police and courts both in their imposition and monitoring. Particularly, the resources required for the police to monitor the use of social media by offenders could make them unenforceable.

It is unclear whether bringing in a new type of protection order would be helpful or create more problems down the line. For example, many other types of hate crime would probably have to be covered, not just anti-semitic or anti-muslim attacks.

The freedom of expression group Article 19 has published some useful guidance on how to balance the need to stop incitement to hatred with the protection of free expression, which says that administrative sanctions can have a place in dealing with hate crime.

The CPS Legal Guidance on Disability Hate Crime proposes a broad array of mechanisms, which can include ASBOS and other restriction orders. But we understand these are normally designed to prevent the victimisation of specific individuals, not general comments in social media.

[Read more] (1 comments)

February 05, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

The real impact of surveillance

Mass surveillance isn't the security blanket that politicians are holding it up to be. For many people surveillance makes them less safe.

The Government are finally having conversations about surveillance, but unfortunately they are simply framing it as an Us vs Them story, a choice between security and privacy. 

Yet for many people surveillance makes them less safe: it's not the security blanket politicians are holding it up to be. Job-seekers under surveillance can lose income needed to survive if their online activity fails to match up to job search demands. People interested in campaigning hestiate over getting involved with movements for social justice when the police count activism as akin to domestic terrorism.

It’s clear that surveillance affects a broad group of people, with real painful consequences for their lives. We’ve seen journalists being monitored, lawyers having their client confidentiality broken, victims of police misconduct being spied on and environmental campaigns infiltrated. These people are not criminals, and yet when we have a system of mass surveillance, they become targets for increasingly intrusive powers. 

We also know that state surveillance stigmatises certain groups of the population, it targets communities and networks. Innocent people who share similarities with suspects, (similar Skype chat user names, nearby places of worship, physical location) fall under intense scrutiny, like having their private web cam chats examinedMass surveillance disproportionally affects marginalized groups and fosters mistrust.

When ORG defends privacy, we are fighting to protect people from abuses of power that leave them vulnerable.

This is why the steady drip of anti-terror laws that give the police and spies more and more surveillance powers saddens and scares me. Surveillance plays a huge role in shutting people down, attacking those already discriminated against and hurting those who try and change the status quo. 

Will you help us campaign against abuses of power over our security in the general election?

The Government has put more surveillance on the agenda, saying they would try again with the Snoopers' Charter, and weaken online security. But there needs to be a strong voice advocating for our civil liberties, and for a surveillance system that people can hold accountable.

ORG are doing that work now. We do it by bringing our campaigns to the courts where we're got a case challenging surveillance in the European Court of Human Rights and we've intervened in a judicial review of our surveillance laws. We work in Parliament where we have given evidence in committees and met with MPs. We have mobilised our supporters through letter writing, petitions, consultation responses and more, every time the right to privacy is under threat. I'm really proud of how much ORG does, and excited by the commitment of our supporters and members to our work. However, we're up against those who will always keep pushing for more surveillance and more powers at any excuse. 

There is a long history of surveillance being used by governments to stifle social movements. Around the world information obtained through surveillance is being used to arrest and torture human rights defenders. Governments have powerful technology at their fingertips which they use to prevent journalists and campaigners from exposing their abuses. Yet the UK is held up as a role model by these same governments to justify introducing more repressive measures. Countries which are viewed as being more extreme or authoritarian can never clean up while we don’t challenge our own practices.

We all have an opportunity to fix this situation and make a stand for digital rights this election.

Help us make the change. Join ORG today!

Right now we need 300 new members so that we can do so much more this election, and we're nearly half way there. Over 100 people have joined us in the last month. Becoming a member makes a huge difference for us, and it's a huge success that so many people are standing with us against mass surveillance. 

[Read more] (3 comments)

January 29, 2015 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

Help fundraise for us

Can you take part in our member referral scheme and help ORG grow this year?

Events this week showed just why we need our members: four House of Lords peers attempted to sneak the Snooper’s Charter into law. The CTSB was the law being debated, but they tried adding a completely separate Bill, one that has already been rejected into the text of this one, as though it was just a small change.   Reviving the discredited Communications Data Bill would have been bad enough but trying to sneak it through Parliament without proper scrutiny is a shocking abuse of our democratic processes.

Thanks to a quick response by ORG supporters, we managed to demonstrate to members of the House of Lords what a bad idea this would be, and the ammendments didn't pass by quietly. There were strong speeches against them from across the House against it. The amendments were withdrawn for now, but we’re ready to fight if these amendments re-appear at the report stage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill (the next opportunity they have to make changes).

It's not over.

We’re ready to fight if these amendments re-appear at the report stage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill (the next opportunity they have to make changes). And if the Lords are trying to force the Home Office to publish a new version of the Communications Data Bill, we’ll fight that too. We’ve seen off the Snoopers’ Charter once and, with your help, we can do it again. And again. And again.

We want the parties to tell us what their election promises for surveilance are. Over the next three months, we need to make sure that your privacy is on the agenda so we can decide what kind of rights and freedoms we want Britain to have. In this critical election year we need your help more than ever, so that all our rights are defended here in the UK.

Can you help us again and ask you friends to join us in campaigning this year?

We have a huge goal to reach this year: 300 new members which will make it possible for us to run a strong pro-privacy campaign at the General Election.

To thank you for the effort we are offering rewards for the sign-ups which come through from your link. They are little gifts that celebrate being creative and fun with technology:

Thank you gifts

  • 1 friend signed up = Becky Hogge’s book, A Guide to the Internet for Human Rights Defenders

  • 3 friends signed up = A Build Your Own Synthesiser kit from Pimoroni

  • 5 friends signed up = MakeyMakey, an invention kit to turn everyday objects into touchpads

  • The most friends signed up? Mozilla have donated us their Firefox Flame Smartphone (brand new & not available in the UK) as a thank you for the person who signs the most friends up.

To be counted either insert your name at the end of this url, and direct people to it

Or if you would like to share our join page without any reference, ask them to put your name in the 'reasons why I joined' box on the join form. It's at or use these links:

Facebook button Twitter button Email button Reddit button Tumblr Button LinkedIn Button

I will do everything I can to help you recruit, so please do get in touch with me if you have any questions or ideas for supporting our membership drive.

At the 2015 General Election we all have the power to influence the future. It's a moment of urgency, but also an opportunity to put the pressure on like never before to make the next Government protect our rights online.

We've just reached 100 new members and are a third of our way towards our goal. Can just help us make the next big jump?


Thank you for helping ORG grow in defending digital rights. When we hired our Legal Director you stepped up and helped us by asking your friends to join: a year on we can see how effective that was as we've had major changes come about from our legal work, especially in making web censorship more transparent and in challenging the legality of surveillance legislation in the courts.

[Read more]

January 27, 2015 | Jim Killock

Lords should drop the Snooper's Charter and let the parties set out their views at the election

Yesterday’s Lords debate ended up with the future of the Snooper’s Charter amendments uncertain, after considerable criticism of both the process and the principle of reintroducing the Communications Data Bill into the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. Further debate on the amendments may come back at the report stage of the Bill.

Many Lords argued that Parliament should be given the chance to vote on the legislation, decrying the years of delay – read repeated defeats – in bringing this Bill into law.

However, one purpose behind the amendments now seems clearer. Lord Carlile and others want the publication of a revised Snooper’s Charter, which has apparently been drafted and is ready to be pulled out of the Home Office’s legislation drawer after the election, should a sympathetic Government be elected.

They in fact argued that they would have introduced the revised version, if only the government had published it. So any issues of failing to deal with the criticisms made during previous scrutiny of the Bill were the fault of the government, in the view of the proposers.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the debate was the near vacuum in discussing the necessary reform needed to deal with the current extent of secret electronic surveillance. Talk of a ‘capability gap’ and the need for new powers is an extraordinary reaction in the light of TEMPORA, EDGEHILL and other GCHQ programmes. Since the Snooper’s Charter was first proposed we have learnt of the pervasiveness of secret electronic surveillance. On the same day that the Lords were talking of a ‘capability gap’ and the need for new powers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reported that the mass surveillance practices of countries - including the UK - pose a fundamental threat to human rights.

Theresa May has pledged that the Snooper’s Charter should be brought into law under a future Conservative administration. Labour are a little more equivocal so far; the Lib Dems have been against it, but are yet to say if this would be a ‘red line’ issue for them.

The correct place for this debate – given Theresa May’s pledge – is the election. Amazingly, she has currently pretty much guaranteed that surveillance will be an election issue. The parties can explain what they want to do, and why. We can learn how these proposals fit in with the clear need for reform and calls to repeal the Human Rights Act can be debated. We can assess candidates for their ability to understand the issues and think independently.

At the election, Labour, the original proponents of this measure, then known as the Interception Modernisation Programme, have an opportunity to clean up their record. Lib Dems can defend their record on this issue, despite voting for continued data retention. Perhaps the Conservatives can try to amend their calls, and if not, individual conservaives will hopefully set out their own views on surveillance.

From that perspective, the Lords rushing to put the Snooper’s Charter onto the statute book would be an attempt to deny the electorate a much needed debate about human rights and civil liberties. From another, it could be seen be a cynical ploy to cause the coalition and Labour pain as we enter the final weeks of Parliament, by forcing Labour and the Lib Dem front benches to vote against Conservative and other back benchers trying to see it into law. 

The Lords is an unelected revising and advisory chamber, which needs to be careful not to deny the electorate their say, and not to play party politics with an issue that impinges on everyone’s fundamental rights. 

[Read more]

January 20, 2015 | Richard King

Default censorship is wrong and unfair to Sky's customers

Web-filters should be opt-in only. It's fine to offer them but it's wrong to force them on people.

Sky Broadband have announced they will force web-filters on all customers, starting this week, unless the account-holder opts out. They say:

"When trying to visit a website deemed unsuitable for children under the age of 13 during the day, customers will see a page reminding them to make a choice about filtering. At this point, they can accept the current setting, change their protection levels or simply turn Sky Broadband Shield off.


"It's better for people to make their own choice, but until they do, we believe this process to be the safest one. Meanwhile we can ensure that they're protected from phishing, malware and sites unsuitable for young children."

This approach will increase harm for websites and web surfers, and there is still little evidence of the benefit to children, so why are they doing it?

All ISPs promised David Cameron they would make all customers choose whether to use filters or not. Sky is not offering a choice however - they are imposing filtering unless customers opt out - an approach that the government rejected after running their own consultation. In addition, most households do not contain children so, Sky's default-on approach seems over-reaching.

Could Sky Broadband be seeking to increase adoption of web filters through "nudge" tactics in order to avoid Government criticism for a lack of uptake? Public interest in activating filters has been low since the Government started pressuring ISPs to introduce them in summer 2013. Ofcom said in July 2014 that just 8% of Sky Broadband subscribers had switched them on. The same report showed a 34% adoption-rate for competitor TalkTalk, who promote filters aggressively, and have made them the default option for new subscribers for a long time. Nudge tactics rely on the principle that most people don't bother changing defaults.

If Sky's agenda were neutral, they would block all web-access for an account until the account-holder had stated their preference about filters: on or off. Instead they intend to block only those sites "deemed unsuitable for under 13s."

Many people have become accustomed to finding the occasional blocked site on our mobiles. That's because default-on blocking of adult content has been the norm there for many years (ORG reported on this in 2011). When you buy a mobile phone, your network assumes you are a child, and filters the web accordingly. Now landline ISPs are doing the same.

If people are inconvenienced by Sky Broadband filters only as much as they are on their mobiles, many won't bother to change the defaults, as it may feel like a lot of hassle if your surfing habits fall foul of overblocking infrequently. Meanwhile others might suffer disproportionately more overblocking depending on the information they seek. We suspect resources on sexual health and sexual orientation for instance are blocked in error more often than other types of site. If you are not the account holder, and you can't get to a site you need, your only recourse would be to discuss it with the person controlling the account. That could be a parent, partner, landlord, room-mate, fellow student, etc.

Sky Broadband may claim increased popularity for filters when in reality the figures would be inflated artificially. People who don't want or need them might be too apathetic, or too reluctant to be on a list of "people who requested the bad sites", to switch them off.

Sky Broadband are asking their customers to choose but they are not giving them the information they need to make an informed choice. Their explanations about filters mention none of their disadvantages or limitations. Far from being perfect, web filters block sites nobody could object to, while failing to block others that are unquestionably adult in nature. If Sky Broadband are confused about this they could consult the Department of Dirty for advice.

Filters are not a parenting panacea and do not substitute for responsible supervision of children online. At ORG we believe parents need help understanding the web, advice on how to talk to their children about online risks, and support to be able to supervise their children effectively. Some may choose filtering as part of their solution - but the rest of us shouldn't be forced to have it just in case.

We also need more transparency about how filters work, what they block, and means of redress for website owners when things go wrong. That's why we built our checking tool at - though we would prefer ISPs to take responsibility for this themselves.

[Read more]