July 15, 2014 | Jim Killock

#DRIP heroes, round one

July 14, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

The DRIP myth list

Here are some of the arguments that the Government is using to justify passing emergency data retention legislation - and the reasons why the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) should not be rushed through Parliament. We are urging our supporters to call the House of Commons on 0207 219 3000 and demand that they vote against this legislation.

1. “This is an emergency”

The CJEU ruling was delivered on 8 April, 2014. The government has had 3 months to address the court’s findings. We believe that it is the threat of legal action by Open Rights Group and other organisations that has prompted this ‘emergency’ legislation -  not the threat of terrorism or criminal activity — but any legal action would be unlikely to produce any result for at least seven months. The government should not mislead us about the urgency of this legislation. Given its significance and the threat to our civil liberties, It should not be passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Background: After the CJEU ruling, Open Rights Group and other organisations contacted the Home Office to ask them if they would be asking internet service providers to stop retaining data. In May, the Home Office responded by saying that ISPs should continue to retain data. Last month, over 1,500 ORG supporters wrote to their ISPs asking them to stop keeping their data. They responded by saying that they were acting under the instructions of the Home Office.

2. “This is not an extension of powers, it’s restoring the status quo”

The Prime Minister said, “we are not introducing new powers or capabilities” but in fact DRIP does not just deal with Regulations that were made illegal by the CJEU ruling. Clauses 3 to 5 of the Bill make amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). DRIP extends the government's surveillance powers in two ways:

  • It extends the territorial scope of RIPA - this means that the government can issue interception warrants for communications data to companies outside of the UK.

  • It extends the definition of “telecommunications service” within RIPA. This will include webmail services such as Gmail. What isn’t clear is what other kinds of internet services are included.

3. “It’s the only way we can catch criminals”

We agree that the targeted retention of communications data can help the police to tackle serious crimes, such as terrorism and child abuse. However, the CJEU ruling outlined a low threshold for deciding to retain data. For example, if a serious crime is committed, data could be retained for a particular geographical region to support a criminal investigation. This means that the police could still retain data for specific investigations, rather than the blanket surveillance of all citizens.

The CJEU ruling was clear that blanket data retention interfered with our right to privacy and our right to a private family life. Other European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Romania and Sweden, have rejected it. These countries continue to tackle serious crime without undermining their citizens’ civil liberties through blanket data retention.

4. “There is a sunset clause”

The Bill will expire on 31 December 2016. The government claims that this will ‘strengthen oversight and transparency’ but that date is two and a half years away. We believe that this date needs to be brought forward to 31 December 2014 and this can be amended or repealed very easily. If legislation is to be rushed through without debate, an earlier expiry date of 31 December 2014 would allow for public scrutiny over the next six months. This is a reasonable request even for those MPs who believe that this is an emergency situation.

5. “The Bill includes concessions that take into account the CJEU ruling”

DRIP ignores the main part of the CJEU ruling - that blanket data retention severely interferes with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data. The government has claimed that other aspects of the Bill will strengthen oversight and transparency. For example, they claim it will restrict the number of public bodies that can request communications data. Yet this concession does not appear in DRIP or the secondary legislation that will implement it. There has been no acknowledgment of the legal requirement to preserve UK citizens’ right to privacy.  

Call the House of Commons on 0207 219 3000 and ask your MP to vote against this legislation.

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July 10, 2014 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

“Emergency” Data Retention: What I told my MP

Today we launched a campaign to ask MPs to stop the 'emergency' Data Retention legislation.

The European Court of Justice ruled in April that blanket data retention, which the government requires of ISPs, is illegal and ignores the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection. However, rather than take the time to debate and redraft the law, they are pushing through a new Bill in record time: released today and put before Parliament on Monday.

It's incredibly disappointing to see the UK Government so determined to ignore a ruling on human rights. Since we have had a year of revelations as to how GCHQ ignore the right to privacy I find it particularly galling that David Cameron wants to push forward with legislation like this, directly in the face of our human rights and the international outrage over Internet snooping.

That's why I wrote to my MP about this issue as soon as our action went live. I've kept my email pretty brief and emphasised the way this Bill is circumventing the democratic process. I know not every MP thinks the same as me on digital issues like the Snowden leaks or the importance of anonymity. But I believe they should all care about doing their job as Members of Parliament, to scrutinise and debate and question.

If you'd like to write to your MP with a letter like mine and ask them to stop this rushed legislation, here are the 4 key points I've used: 

  1. Emergency legislation should only be for a genuine national emergency. We are not currently in an emergency so Parliament should take its time.
  2. The only threat is that of legal action as the Government wishes to continue with blanket data retention which the CJEU recently ruled incompatible with human rights.
  3. The UK has an obligation to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which we have signed onto and which we should uphold as an example internationally.
  4. It doesn't matter whether you agree or not with the contents of the Bill. This hasn't undergone the proper scrutiny and all MPs should care about being given the opportunity to have their say.

Here's my letter:

Dear Anne Main MP,
I'm writing to you about the emergency data retention legislation the Government have announced today.

I know that you are a Conservative MP and may well agree, or be whipped into agreeing with the contents of this Bill. However, I would urge you to push back on the timeframe on this legislation. Emergency legislation should be when we are under a genuine viable threat.

As I see it, the only threat is the Government failing to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling that existing Data Retention laws are incompatible with human rights - and facing a lawsuit as a consequence. There are big questions being discussed about the balance of privacy, security, data laws, and the purposes and needs of our police and security services. I would welcome these being aired in public, through a proper process of debates and scrutiny in which you and all MPs are involved. Please stand back against this legislation being rushed through in a day.

Thank you very much.

Ruth Coustick-Deal

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July 10, 2014 | Jim Killock

Updates on “emergency” data retention law

We'll add updates to this blog as the day goes on.

Email your MP - No Emergency!

You can email your MP about this. This is not the time for emergency legislation!


We wait to see precisely what this Data Retention Bill contains, but there are some principles at stake:

Emergency legislation should deal with emergencies: there is no emergency

While the government is on thin ice pretending that data retention laws still exist, they have persuaded ISPs to carry on with it. They have stated to the courts that they believe the data retention regulations are still in force. Until a court says otherwise, everyone will carry on as they are. Court dates and decisions are likely to be six months away. In any case, rushing through legislation that is extremely controversial should never be done in a day. There is undoubtedly time for a discussion.

Legislation must comply with human rights judgements

What exactly is the point of human rights judgements if even the Liberal Democrats are prepared to ignore them? The CJEU have outlined very clearly what needs to happen before governments compel data to be retained. They say you cannot do it on a blanket basis, and someone independent, such as a regulator or a judge, must supervise police access. These fundamental points are missing from the emergency laws.

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July 07, 2014 | Jim Killock

Theresa May is attempting to mislead the public

Government spin that data retention laws need to be revised to deal with terrorism, as reported by the Guardian on Saturday, is a simple attempt to mislead the public.

The real reason they need to legislate on data retention is that they are asking ISPs to operate illegally by retaining data, since the CJEU struck the Data Retention Directive down.

The government knows they are at high risk of legal action from ORG, Privacy International, Liberty and others, and of that legal action succeeding. ORG wrote to the government to ask them to stop trying to enforce EU data retention laws, as they had been invalidated. Thousands of ORG supporters wrote to ISPs to ask them to stop retaining their data illegally. One way or another, this law is likely to be struck down, and the government knows it.

ISPs have obeyed the government’s instructions to continue to retain data, which is in itself quite dubious. It is courts that decide what the law is, not governments. Parliament legislates, and governments must obey the law. The government does not decide what the law is.

Theresa May has long made it clear that she wants to extend data retention to cover mobile phone records, that are currently not kept because of the complexities of administering “Network Address Translation” caused by using single IP addresses for many mobile phone users. Currently data retention applies to phone records, customer data, IP addresses and email logs at your broadband ISP.

But now all retention too must abide by the CJEU judgement, which has clearly delineated the limits to data retention under human rights law. They have said that it must:

  • provide exceptions for people whose communications must be confidential for legal reasons

  • restrict retention to data that is related to a threat to public security and in particular restrict retention to a particular time period, geographical area and / or suspects or persons whose data would contribute to the prevention or prosecution of crime

  • restrict access to defined, sufficiently serious crimes

  • limit access to that which is strictly necessary

  • empower an independent administrative or judicial body to make decisions about access to the data on the basis of need

  • distinguish between the usefulness of different kinds of data and relate retention periods to that question

  • keep retention periods as low as possible, i.e. to periods that are ‘strictly necessary'

  • ensure the data is kept securely

  • ensure destruction of the data when it is no longer needed

  • ensure the data is kept within the EU 

Will any new UK data retention law, drafted and published this week meet these criteria? It doesn’t seem likely, and if not, then Parliament must be given time to consider it in line with the demands of the judgement. This paragraph, in particular, needs the attention of our legislators:

Moreover, whilst seeking to contribute to the fight against serious crime, Directive 2006/24 does not require any relationship between the data whose retention is provided for and a threat to public security and, in particular, it is not restricted to a retention in relation (i) to data pertaining to a particular time period and/or a particular geographical zone and/or to a circle of particular persons likely to beinvolved, in one way or another, in a serious crime, or (ii) to persons who could,for other reasons, contribute, by the retention of their data, to the prevention, detection or prosecution of serious offences.

That is a clear call to draw a line and stop blanket data retention. As the court says in their press statement, it is a ”serious interference with fundamental rights of citizens to privacy”. Any new law needs to scale back, not increase, the UK's data retention laws.

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July 06, 2014 | Jim Killock

What Google isn’t doing with requests for search redaction

Newspapers are now accusing Google of censoring their articles every time that a search result is being removed in relation to one of their articles. However, what the very lazy journalists are not doing is testing the search results to see if any of the key figures are likely to have gained the redaction, at least not before telling the world about it.

A search for Stan o’Neal brings up Robert Peston’s article on the first page. So what redaction could have taken place here? The only personal names on that page, other than Peston’s are for individuals in the comments section. So the likelihood is that Google has redacted a search for someone whose comment appeared unduly highly in their search results. That’s likely to fit within the criteria laid down by the ECJ: results that are inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.

How about the Express’ article about George Osborne’s brother Adam? Searches for Adam Osborne and Rahala Noor bring up the article on the first page. George Osborne has a lot of material and is a public figure so it won’t likely to be about him. It’s possible that Sir Peter Osborne has asked for a redaction. Would that be reasonable? Probably, as the article isn’t really about him.

One problem seems to be that very prominent and interesting articles get pushed up search results for people who otherwise don’t have a lot of highly ranked material on the Internet relating to them. For people posting comments on news articles about far more famous people, this result is not surprising.

The Guardian seem to have been the victim of a mistake by Google, who have changed their minds about that redaction. In each case, we might wonder if we really want Google to make this decision, and where they are drawing the line. 

But if Google want to make life easier for themselves, and reduce the number of complaints, they should see if there is some way their notices, or by providing some commentary, could make it clear that redactions are unlikely to be about the main subjects of these articles. For public policy, we need to think about the extent to which we trust Google to make these decisions, and how we make sure they don’t remove searches that relate to matters of public interest.



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July 03, 2014 | Jim Killock

Getting filter categories right

Yesterday's launch of has had an excellent response. Over 10,000 sites have been tested for blocks, and no doubt many problems have been found and reported. However, we will need to change the way we calculate results for talkTalk.

When we set up our filtered Internet lines, we did our best to choose the 'normal' set of filters for each line. These are what we believe an 'average' customer who sets up filtering will choose. In TalkTalk's case, it seems we made a mistake, and three categories got added that should not have been. These are "File sharing, Games and social networking". It seems many blogs are categorised as social networking. Additionally, we've been informed by BT that they use light, not moderate, as their default.

To clarify how the 20% figure was produced, we've outlined below the statistics for each network. No individual network blocked more than 13%, so while the overall total representing a 'default' filter block will reduce, it may not reduce so dramatically. We should know in around a day.

We want to show what our experience of their defaults is in the results on We thought that aim would be reasonably representative of what people in general would experience. We recognise that we didn't make that very clear at launch - but are happy to clarify now. When TalkTalk's and BT's results are recalibrated over the next day or so, we will have lower percentages for their 'default' settings. However, all the sites that are included in our current 20% figure are affected by some kind of blocking, even if only a small number of people switch on filters at this level. If and when we test the stricter filter options for all ISPs, the number of sites blocked for customers using stricter options is likely to be even higher. We will need to test for strict blocking, because people have a right to know if a site is blocked and if mistakes are being made.

We have been transparent from the start about the settings with which our lines are configured: they have always been listed in detail in our FAQs. To make this easier to find, we've also added an explanation directly below the results. If we've made any other errors about the 'default' position at an ISP, we are happy to be corrected.

Ideally we would monitor each filtering level for each ISP, and our system is capable of doing so, but our funds don't stretch to paying for all the connections so we had to make a choice. We are working to expand our system so that people can run probes of their own. That way we can cover many more networks, with different filtering settings, to get a clearer picture of the way these filters work in practice. You can help with this.

It's also important to remember that TalkTalk and other providers should be providing an authoritative tool for people to check whether and why a site is blocked, which would also have helped avoid error. After all, we are just testing for blocks, we are not trying to reverse engineer the precise categorisations that are made.

Finally, there must be a question about whether ISPs should be offering to block a category called "social media" that includes content such as blogs. This is censorship by form rather than content. If Tesco run a blog, should that be blocked? Or a blog about Minecraft, or school meals? In fact which blogs are selected as social media at TalkTalk seems to be highly unpredictable. Furthermore, many  communities such as the LGBT community use blogging as a way to talk about issues on their own terms: blocking such information could be disproportionately harmful for young people.

An argument may be made that comments sections could be unpoliced, but plenty of newspapers have comment sections. If a danger is posed by comments, then the target of filtering probably needs a whitelist solution. We think there is some danger in these categories being available for people to apply: they are both too broad for most young users and not sufficiently narrow for young children.

The broader point needs to be remembered: that these filters are arbitrary, capricious, and even the people who sell them don't fully understand what they do.

For the perspective of a Blocked user and website owner on this issue, journalist Jane Fae blogged her story of the status of her blog as blocked or not by TalkTalk.



Total Result






BT (moderate, not default)




















TalkTalk (with optional categories)




















All networks (current totals)




Edits: added Jane Fae link, information about BT and the results table for clarity  

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July 02, 2014 | Pam Cowburn

ORG's Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 sites are blocked by filters

Today, Open Rights Group relaunched

A Porsche broker, a political blogger and a mum hoping to read an article about post pregnancy care are among those that have been affected by Internet filters, designed to protect young people from adult content.

In 2012 we published the Mobile Filtering Report, investigating the way default blocking on mobile phones was denying people access to important information. We reported on what has seemed like rather arbitrary censorship, such as the New Wine church block. ORG analysed and drew examples from our site at which originally allowed people to submit when they found that a site had been blocked.

Now the full extent of Internet blocking can be revealed by our relaunched Blocked project.

Any web users can use the free checking tool on where they can instantly check to see if a website has been blocked by filters. Our tool checks the submitted url for blocks across the main Internet networks on both broadband and phone. We have test lines from 3, Andrews & Arnold, BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Plusnet, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Vodafone.

Through the Blocked project we wanted to find out about the impact of web filters. So far Open Rights Group has tested over 100,000 sites and found that over 19,000 - almost one in five - are blocked by one ISP or another. The problem of overblocking is not going away. Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people, from businesses to bloggers, are being affected because people can’t access their websites.

We've found that there is a lack of information about how to get sites unblocked. Mother-of-one Marielle, said she was ‘humiliated’ when she visited the Three store to find out how she could order to access an article about post-partum care on her phone: “The manager told me that I couldn’t access filtered articles without entering a 4 digit pin every time I wanted to read a filtered article because I had a PAYG plan.” Marielle submitted a report to Three saying that the article had been incorrectly blocked but didn’t get a response.

There are more personal stories on the Blocked site and we'd like to hear from you if you've been affected by filters.

We'd like to thank our supporters who committed to make this project happen. ORG's team of technical volunteers worked with us to build the systems and software for this project and we're very grateful for their time. We couldn't have done this without the support of our community, so thank you.

How you can help Blocked?

Test your url:

Spread the word: 
We want as many people as possible to talk about how filtering effects them. It's only through being vocal that we'll be able to change the Government's attitude to Internet censorship.

Join ORG: 
By joining ORG you can help us continue to provide Blocked for free and support our on-going development of the tool.

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