November 24, 2014 | Jim Killock

Blanket data retention does not come in “good” and “bad” forms

Yesterday’s announcement that mobile phone providers will be obliged to keep records of their customers IP addresses (and port numbers) came as no surprise. But what we need to remember is that all data retention should be subject to the same principles, conveniently outlined by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

These principles include that data retention should be targeted against a specific threat, confined by criteria such as a specific time or place. The new proposal, while being consistent with existing arrangements for ISPs in the UK, is another proposal for blanket retention beyond what is needed for business purposes.

In any case, this is a rather backward proposal, dealing with a problem that exists because the mobile companies continue to rely on out of date technology. To take a moment to explain: the Internet is famously running out of addresses (numbers that identify a point on the Internet – Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses).

To deal with the lack of address space, mobile companies use a technology called "Network Address Translation" or NAT, which allows several devices to share the same IP address. Most people use this at home to allow two or three computers to use the ADSL or cable connection, However the mobile companies do this at a far greater scale called "Carrier Grade NAT" — and there will be hundreds of different people using the same IP address.

However, all of this technology needs replacing. It limits the usefulness of Internet connections, particularly reducing our ability to use peer-to-peer technologies. The government ought to be asking providers to invest in IPv6, rather than upgrading their current, limited technology, just for the purposes of further logging our movements.

Proposals for surveillance need to be justified not just because of the increased convenience for police, but on the basis that they do not intrude more than is necessary for specific criminal enforcement. This does not mean that all events should be logged and tracked at all times in order that police can always use a source of evidence for investigations. Yet rhetorically we know this is where the surveillance lobby has already arrived. As Jack Straw asked, how can data retention be limited on the basis of suspicion: the police are not “clairvoyant”, they cannot know which of us will need to be investigated in the future.

The problem with Straw’s argument is that if you accept it, then it is impossible argue against the destruction of any data, ever. Any of it might be useful to the police, so all of it should be kept. Maybe we should be obliged to retain our hard drives forever.

The choice is always between blanket, pervasive and excessively intrusive surveillance, where everything is collected, and proportionate, targeted collection where there is a possibility that sometimes something might go missing. However, in an age where data is generated at multiple points, by increasing numbers of services and devices, a lack of digital evidence should be the exception rather than the rule. Claims of data going missing should be treated with caution.

The important point in relation to new mobile IP data retention is that it suffers from the same problems as previous proposals. It is unbalanced and lacks any serious restraint. In order to get the principles right we need to examine the whole of the data retention question. Theresa May denied us that opportunity only months ago. Now she is seeking to press ahead, again with agreement of her coalition partners, who also need the opportunity to look at this question in the round.

Her calls for the Snoopers’ Charter, and building the surveillance regime piecemeal, has the effect of eroding the principle behind defining the basis of proportionate measures to retain data, and surreptitiously signing up Parliament to the idea that blanket collection is not necessarily a problem. MPs can place lines in the sand based on their sense of public concern, rather than the principles. Once the principle that blanket data retention is fully accepted, resistance to the Snoopers’ Charter will weaken, and MPs will turn to oversight as sufficient protection. 

That is why we need a full debate about the whole question of data retention, in the light of the CJEU judgment. The effects of that judgment on UK law are not yet fully understood, but David Davis MP and Tom Watson MP, as well as ORG, are seeking to challenge the existing data retention regime.


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November 12, 2014 | Florri Burton

3 days to go till ORGCon2014

Countdown to ORGCon2014. We look forward to all our wonderful sessions and gathering of supporters this coming weekend!

We are all busy getting ready for ORGCon2014 this weekend. Tickets are unfortunately now sold out! We're sorry if you didn't manage to get one this year, but we can let you know that the sessions are being filmed and can be found on the ORGCon website post-event.

ORGCon2014 is all about debating civil liberties and the Internet. The clock is ticking until the general election 2015, now is the time that we can make a real difference, take action for our human rights, and meet together as a community.

ORGCon2014 is the biggest event in the UK which focuses on ethical issues of the Internet and technology. As well as the campaigns that we are working on like "Don't Spy On Us!" "The Department of Dirty" and "Blocked!" we also showcase and support other key topics and campaigners in the field: TTIP, open data, big data, Facebook privacy settings, online stalking, party politics on the Internet, child protection and more. It's also a place for ORG members, activists, students and everyone unabashedly enthusiastic about human rights and technology to come together to participate in great discussions and sessions.


We are delighted to be running a session on Day 1 chaired by our Communications Director Pam Cowburn on 'Surveillance, Whistleblowing and the Media', with Jodie Ginsberg CEO of Index on Censorship, Rachel Oldroyd Managing Editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and investigative journalist Duncan Campbell participating. It's going to be great to get the insider perspectives from these fantastic journalists on the role of whistleblowing post Snowden. How does surveillance interfere with the right to free speech and confidentiality between journalists and their sources? And how does RIPA fit in with all this?

As an intern, I am thrilled to be attending ORGCon2014. However, I have no idea how I am going to choose which talks to go to, they all look brilliant. I'm sure many of you are having the same problem! Check out our speakers for the weekend.

Yet I will say that I am excited to hear a fresh perspective on the infamous 'Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear' line, particularly Merrick Badger's experiences and work on Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance. I am especially interested in the undercover police infiltration of protest groups and the ways in which police were almost expected to have sexual relationships with women they were investigating. For me this raises issues of the gendered way in which states enact their security policies.


This year we are running a second day at ORGCon2014, promoting the chance for you to really get involved hands on, as activists and local groups members. We are running sessions on campaign skills like how to win a long term campaign, how to get media coverage, and how to campaign with your MP and MEPs, not to mention our hack spaces and top tips on how to run local groups.

This second day is really all about engagement and participation, in an inclusive space. This will give the chance for those with a passion for digital rights and campaigning to further develop their skills, with the help of some experienced individuals.

We're looking forward to meeting you face to face, and hearing your thoughts on how to take action.

In a time where our human rights are being eroded by tighter controls on the Internet, censorship and mass surveillance, providing a space for these discussions and participation, and furthering your campaigning skills is more important than ever.

It's our first time running a second day of our annual conference, and we look forward to working with you to shape this new side to the event.

To those of you who have already bought a ticket, joined ORG or who have registered to volunteer thank you so much for your support, and see you Saturday!

Here's to having our best ORGCon yet!

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November 11, 2014 | Javier Ruiz

ORG and Privacy International publish guidance on privacy and open government

Digital rights organisations provide guidance to governments on positive steps around privacy and data protection to be considered in open government programmes.

Open Rights Group and Privacy International have worked with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative to develop a new chapter on Privacy and Data Protection in the Open Government Guide, which will be officially launched at Open Up on November 12th.

The new chapter provides a menu of commitments that governments could adopt in their next OGP Action Plans, each supported by standards and country examples. The ‘illustrative commitments’ are not prescriptive, but ideas that governments can adapt to local circumstances in order to enhance existing protections.

Open Rights Group has long advocated for privacy to be addressed in this context as one of the thorny issues that will make or break the credibility of open government.

However, it is important to avoid the trap of false choices. Privacy and data protection tend to be placed against openness and security. But as ORG's advisory council member Tim Davies put it in a recent blog, this is the wrong approach. Privacy is the basis of both openness and security.

Open government promotes a fully engaged citizenry enabled by technology to participate in the decisions concerning their lives. But this can only lead to a more sophisticated understanding of data, including privacy, surveillance and security.

Our colleagues at the Open Government Partnership Paul Maasen and Su Muhereza have established that privacy is not yet at the heart of national plans for open government.

This situation cannot last much longer. Technology companies are changing their systems to cope with the new demands for privacy and control over information. For example, Apple and Google are starting to encrypt phones by default. Governments committed to openness will have to demonstrate they take privacy seriously. The new privacy chapter in the Open Government guide is a good place to start.

The recommended steps we propose in the guide are clustered around four key areas:

Steps to secure the basic foundations for privacy. This includes both positive legislation on data protection and repealing requirements which prevent anonymity by phone and internet users.

Measures to empower individuals to stay safe and protect personal their own information. This might include public education as well as innovations to give citizens control of the personal information held by institutions such as banks and telephone companies.

Specific protections related to security and intelligence services. Commitments here start with publishing clear and transparent laws on intelligence gathering powers, and go onto publishing annual reports about surveillance and interception of communications.

Steps to integrate privacy into the design of open government programmes. This starts with considering privacy early in the conception stage, establishing processes for assessing how personally identifiable information is collected, used, shared, and maintained and incorporating ‘privacy by design’ principles.

You can read the chapter here.

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November 06, 2014 | Ed Johnson-Williams

GCHQ are plunging into the privacy debate.

Writing in Tuesday's Financial Times, the new director of GCHQ Robert Hannigan, called for "greater co-operation from technology companies" to stop terrorists and criminals groups using online services as their "command-and-control networks of choice".

His words completely ignored the Snowden revelations that showed the immense surveillance powers and access to our data that GCHQ has. Instead of talking about GCHQ's apparent habit of collecting the entire British population's data rather than targeting their activities at criminals, he thought he would try to frame the debate as about GCHQ needing more help from technology companies.

David Cameron has come out in support of Hannigan's comments. Hannigan's statement is the latest in a concerted campaign by the Government and the intelligence agencies to bolster support for their surveillance powers.

Even Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats - who traditionally have a good stance on digital rights issues - said he supports blanket collection of data.

And Theresa May and the Home Office are so obsessed with surveillance, they want to scupper the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's plans to let us use our mobile phones on every mobile network; a plan that would increase connectivity and support the UK economy.

This is a big debate. And if we value our privacy from Government surveillance, we're going to have to fight for it.

That's why ORG's spent the last two days pushing back against Hannigan's comments in the media.

We've appeared on BBC TV news and Radio 4 and been quoted in the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Guardian. We also wrote a comment piece in the Independent.

Can you help us with the fight by giving us £5 a month?

ORG is playing a huge part in fighting for our privacy by making sure that GCHQ and the Government don't get to push through more surveillance powers unopposed.

We're already holding the Government to account in the courts by taking them to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge GCHQ's practices and oversight and intervening in a case on DRIP - an Act forcing ISPs to retain our email and web data that Parliament rushed through earlier this year.

We'll also be trying to force privacy and digital rights onto the agenda of new MPs at next year's election. We'll hold lots of local debates with Parliamentary candidates in the run-up to polling day in May. And we've got plans for helping ORG supporters to challenge candidates that knock on their door.

But Theresa May and David Cameron will be running their election campaign from precisely the opposite angle. That's why it's so crucial ORG has the resources we need to stand up to them.

Join ORG today so we can keep fighting back against GCHQ's invasion of our privacy.

When you join ORG you'll get a free ticket to our annual conference ORGCon on 15 and 16 November in London. We've got fantastic speakers and we're focusing on surveillance including a talk on what big technology companies are doing about mass surveillance.

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November 06, 2014 | Jim Killock

The courts should decide how much privacy we're entitled to - not GCHQ


In his first public statement since becoming Director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan yesterday described the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple as, 'the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals,' and called on them to give 'greater co-operation' to the intelligence services. It is a surprising challenge to these companies, given how much GCHQ relies on them for our data.

Edward's Snowden revelations that the NSA and GCHQ were monitoring our personal calls, texts, emails and webchats did not just damage the credibility of the US and UK governments but also the tech companies who to varying degrees had been complicit in sharing our data. But even when they weren’t handing data over, the TEMPORA programme meant that information from their networks was hoovered up anyhow through the tapping of fibre-optic cables.

Companies responded by encrypting data in transit. By doing this, they are forcing our intelligence agencies to use court orders to make requests for data. To our knowledge, tech companies don't refuse these requests when they are made legally – so when Hannigan calls for 'better arrangements' it is unclear what he really means.

In any case, the debate over acquisition of data, in which politicians like to talk of the Internet “going dark”, takes place in a world where data and records of our phones, flights, emails, photos, movements and heartbeats are proliferating. We should be highly skeptical of claims that data is difficult to get hold of.

There are at least five ways that GCHQ can acquire data to investigate terrorists (plus foreign governments, companies, climate change negotiators, human rights activists and EU officials).

Firstly, they can collect all the data off the wires. As we noted, this is becoming harder, as encryption is more common.

Secondly, they can weaken our encryption methods, by adding backdoors, so they can always decrypt things. The problem with that is it means organised crime can find the backdoor, and they can steal our credit card details, passwords, and everything else that we want to keep safe.  The Snowden documents suggested that the NSA and GCHQ have tried this, which, if true, is deeply irresponsible.

Thirdly, they can find ways to break into computers, phones and routers. They find this a lot easier than you might think and invest a lot of money in it.

Fourthly, they can seize your computer and demand any passwords.

Fifthly, they can go to a company like Google or Facebook with a legal order or warrant.

The problem is that GCHQ and the NSA don’t want personal security to get in the way of them looking at our data: they want banks of computers to check on everyone to make sure you don’t pose a threat to them. That is what bulk collection and analysis means, though they daren’t spell it out that way. Instead, they talk of “needles” being separated from “innocent hay”.

They will claim that they need to find every criminal and terrorist at the press of a button, and to do this, they must break encryption, and seize all of our data secretly. Even if that were true, the cost is enormous. It threatens the personal security of our online activity and leaves us vulnerable to criminal activity.  It also gives the intelligence services unrestricted powers to monitor our communications continuously. Perfect surveillance is a kind of omniscience that most people would not trust ordinary mortals with.

Hannigan is right: privacy is not an absolute right but that does not mean it should down to GCHQ or tech companies to decide just how much privacy we are entitled to. That should be down to our courts and judges. We expect that GCHQ will nearly always be able to get what they ask the courts for. This may not be everything they want to get hold of but democracy and freedom mean that government agencies don’t get to have all of the information, all of the time.

This article was originally published by The Independent.



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October 18, 2014 | Richard King

Hacking for your digital rights

On 4 October, twenty people got together for a digital-rights hack-day at Mozilla's community space in Covent Garden. Find out what happened and how you can help take the projects we started further.

The day was all about planning and prototyping hacks to help defend digital rights directly, raise awareness of ORG's issues, support our campaigns with evidence and make ORG more accessible to everyone. It was also a great way to bring together and celebrate our technical community, which has gone from strength to strength this year.

Here's a run-down of the hacks, ideas and prototypes people came up with on the day:

You can also check out a few photos of the day on Flickr.

We're really excited about the creativity and viability of all these ideas - and we want to support the community to bring as many of them to fruition as we can. If you're inspired by any of these projects and would like to help take them further, please introduce yourself on the technical volunteers mailing list, or drop by our IRC channel to say hello. You can also find us on github.

If you fancy joining us in person, grab a ticket for ORGCon (15-16 November), where on day two we'll be holding another day-long hack-fest as well as workshops and other sessions on digital-rights activism. We will also be running a session at the Mozilla Festival (24-26 October) looking at how to build on - please come and say hello if you get the chance.

Happy hacking!

Updated on 31/10/14 to include a link to the github page for the "kickstarter for election candidates" hack.

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October 14, 2014 | Ed Johnson-Williams

TTIP's threat to our privacy and culture

TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is a trade agreement currently being negotiated behind closed doors between the United States and the European Union. The agreement is supposed to "increase trade and investment" but there are significant concerns around its potential negative impact on democracy, the rule of law, innovation, culture and privacy.

Many activists are concerned that TTIP will lower regulations that protect us - for example, environmental and food safety laws. TTIP could also lead to the opening up of public services, like those provided by NHS, to US companies - who would be able to sue the UK government if they believe legislation would lead to a reduction in their profits.

NoTTIP Demonstration - Open Rights Group placards

TTIP - pronounced "tee-tip" - is just one of many international trade agreements. Very few of them are well-known and the acronyms for them can get a little bewildering. One thing that is common to many of the recent agreements is Europe and the USA pushing for measures that would jeapordise our digital rights. We need to be vigilant against the threat that TTIP poses for our privacy and culture.

A (relatively) well-known trade agreement is ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). The EU, the USA and nine other countries negotiated ACTA between 2007 and 2010. ACTA made Internet providers legally responsible for copyright infringement on their network. To determine whether their users were infringing copyright, providers would have been strongly incentivised to carry out deep, intrusive surveillance on all of our Internet usage, regardless of whether we had actually infringed anyone's copyright. This would have been an enormous invasion of our privacy. Thanks to huge public protests across Europe, the European Parliament rejected ACTA in 2012 with a 92% majority.

Another trade agreeement that is currently being negotiated is the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). The USA is working on the TPP with twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Leaks of the intellectual property (IP) chapter show that the USA is pushing for very restrictive measures on IP that would invade privacy and impact upon freedom of expression, beyond even those in ACTA.

The EU and Canada have just finished negotiating CETA - pronounced "see-tuh" - (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). The 2009 leak of a draft IP chapter of CETA revealed extensive European demands for Internet provider liability, strict rules on technical restrictions on media that we buy and longer copyright terms. Europe wanted a more repressive IP framework that would have put the interests of major content owners above the need for innovation, culture and privacy.

There is good news though. Those measures have been dropped in the final CETA text. As Canadian academic Michael Geist points out, one of the likely reasons for this is that Canadian negotiators wanted to keep the relatively consumer-friendly copyright reforms that Canada introduced in 2012. TTIP negotiations will not have this moderating force with regards to the IP provisions.

Discussions on IP in TTIP are at a relatively early stage and the relevant chapter has not been leaked. There are, however, reports of USA negotiators asking for measures in TTIP to encourage Internet firms to bypass the rule of law and voluntarily police IP themselves "in good faith". This could mean (mainly American) companies voluntarily removing content, blocking websites, demoting search results or witholding payments without the normal checks required by legal processes. US law being implemented on a global scale by US companies is not something we should accept.

The USA and Europe have a history of proposing extremely restrictive IP measures. We must stop TTIP from invading our privacy and inhibiting our culture and freedom of expression. As the defeat of ACTA shows, we can defeat undemocratic trade deals. We will be watching the TTIP negotiations closely to make sure our fundamental rights are not threatened.

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October 06, 2014 | Ed Paton-Williams and Elizabeth Knight

Journalists and their sources require privacy. But so does everyone else

The police’s use of RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) to access journalists’ phone records came under attack this weekend from the Lib Dems, the Sun newspaper, Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, and the Government's Interception of Communications Commissioner.

We support stronger protection for journalists and their sources. It is right that overuse of RIPA is addressed. But this debate is failing to recognise the reason that journalists’ data can be accessed in this way. All of our data is indiscriminately retained and the police can access it without authorisation from anyone outside the police. We need comprehensive reform of our surveillance laws to ensure communications data is only retained on a targeted basis and access to the data must be approved by judges.

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats passed a conference motion including a call for greater protection for communications records which are legally privileged or relate to journalistic sources. It also emerged that the Sun has written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to ask for a public review of the Metropolitan Police’s use of RIPA to access phone records belonging to their political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee is concerned about the police’s use of RIPA to investigate journalists and their confidential sources. Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, is going to write to every police force, asking them how many times they have used RIPA to request someone’s records, what the purpose of the request was, and the profession of the target of the request.

In addition, Sir Paul Kennedy, the Government’s Interception of Communications Commissioner, has written to all police forces asking them to provide him with full details of all their investigations which used RIPA to access communications data and identify journalistic sources.

We welcome these interventions and agree that journalists and their sources must be able to expect privacy. At present the police are obtaining journalists’ communications data by using RIPA and bypassing the journalistic protections contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. RIPA was supposed to provide powers to law enforcement to deal with terrorist and serious criminal activities, not to uncover confidential journalistic sources. The current position threatens the privacy and freedom of expression of journalists and whistleblowers.

It is also worth remembering that, in terms of data retention, the lack of exceptions for communications subject to “professional secrecy” was one of the grounds on which the CJEU (Court of Justice of the EU) recently found the EU Data Retention Directive to be disproportionate and invalid.

However, the issue also serves to highlight deeper problems with our surveillance legislation. Under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) everybody’s communications data is being retained without suspicion of wrongdoing. Under RIPA no judicial authorisation is required to access the retained data and the data may be accessed for very broadly defined purposes. The case of Tom Newton Dunn is a reminder that these powers are not always used to fight terrorism or serious crime.

The current debate has so far centred around law enforcement's access to journalists' communications data. It's true that journalists and their sources require privacy, but so does everyone else. And even if the police were not allowed to acquire journalists' communications records, the wider population including journalists, would still have all their communications data retained.

We need an overhaul of our surveillance laws so everyone’s right to privacy is respected, including that of journalists. A new law should ensure (amongst other safeguards) that communications data is only retained on a targeted basis (or for business purposes) and that all requests to access data are judicially authorised.

All of our recommendations for reforming surveillance law are available in our joint report, Don’t Spy on Us: Reforming Surveillance in the UK.

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