November 13, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Council of Ministers move to delete vital safeguards from EU Telecoms Package

Update (17/11/08): Write to your UK representatives today! French campaigners La Quadrature du Net have today launched a letter-writing campaign to urge Council of Ministers delegates from each of the European Member States to honour amendments passed by the European Parliament that ensure only proportionate and just sanctions against illicit filesharing can be proposed by national governments. From their press release:

"Should amendment 138 be removed from the Telecoms Package by the Council, it would show to the whole of Europe that the technocratic structure can be used by the executive branch to bypass the democratic expression of the Parliament. Such an acceptance of the will of Nicolas Sarkozy, to serve the interest of a very few lobbies from the entertainment industries, would be a very sad example of the failure of European Democracy."

More information about the Quadrature du Net's campaign to save amendment 138 is available here.

If you're living in the UK and you'd like to take part in the campaign, write to your MP and ask them to pass on your concerns to the relevant official, and/or write directly to Stephen Carter, Minister for Commnications, Technology and Broadcasting, and Shiriti Vadera, Minister for Economic Competitiveness, both at BERR (Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET). Feel free to leave a copy of your letter in the comments to this post.

You can find resources for your letter in this legal brief [pdf] (which has a 9 point summary at the end), in ORG's submission to BERR's recent consultation on domesitc proposals to combat illict filesharing [pdf], and on the Quadrature du Net's wiki. The Council of Ministers will meet on 27 November, so it's vital you get in touch with UK representatives as soon as possible.

With thanks to ThisIsIt2Back in September MEPs responded to public concerns over the EU Telecoms Package by voting through vital safeguards that would help ensure that only proportionate and just sanctions against illicit filesharing could be proposed by national governments. Since then, you'd be forgiven for thinking your internet connection was safe from disconnection via corporate fiat.

However, deep inside the belly of Brussels, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission have been amending the European Parliament's adopted text. Crucially, they've been arguing over whether to remove the very safeguards MEPs fought hard to include against the so-called "3 strikes and you're out" plans favoured by the French. The result is a high level of uncertainty, underpinned by a forest of papers and amended texts that even the toughest legal minds might have trouble unpicking.

We're lucky, then, that cyberlaw expert and ORG Advisory Council member Professor Lilian Edwards, together with her former student and now trainee barrister Simon Bradshaw, have been scrutinising the ongoing negotiations process, and the resulting proposed texts. In a 14-page paper [.pdf] analysing the various Directives that make up the Telecoms Package (as amended by Parliament in September) and the reactions to these amendments from the Council of Ministers and the Commission, they conclude:

"On the basis of our analysis it is clear that the package does, or at least can, provide a mandatory basis for the "warnings" part of a French-style connection sanctions law (the "strikes") (see para 12 of brief), and also potentially provides a means by which public CSPs (ISPs and the like) can be compelled by the national regulator to work with ("promoting cooperation") rightsholders to implement a disconnection scheme (the "you're out" – see para 19 of brief). Wording in various places of the latest version seems to confirm that this "co-operation" is a more extensive obligation than simply providing copyright-related public interest information.

"This is a crucial set of obligations, about to be imposed on all of Europe's ISPs and telcos, which should be debated in the open, not passed under cover of stealth in the context of a vast and incomprehensible package of telecoms regulation. It seems, on careful legal examination by independent experts, more than possible that such a deliberate stealth exercise is indeed going on."

Negotiations are ongoing and Edwards and Bradshaw promise to update the brief as developments occur. You can download the full brief here.

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November 03, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Illicit filesharing: don't legislate, innovate!

ORG has submitted a response to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform's consultation into legislative options to tackle illicit peer to peer filesharing [pdf]. Here are some of the main points from the response:

  • Illicit peer to peer filesharing is not a law enforcement problem, it's a business model problem. The best way to tackle the problem is to provide consumers with competitive legal alternatives. This would deliver substantial additional revenues to the recording industry, and render the enforcement challenge radically different.
  • All enforcement measures suggested by the consultation are either wildly disproportionate, completely ineffective, or both. In the ten years the international recording industry has been fighting peer-to-peer filesharing, every development in enforcement has been matched by a development in technology that circumvents it. Without competitive alternatives, this cycle will only continue.
  • No case has been made for legislative change. Those who seek to alter the balance to make enforcement cheaper, more arbitrary and less respectful of privacy rights must show a sufficient justification. We do not believe that this has happened.
  • None of the regulatory solutions have satisfactory consumer safeguards. Consumers have been locked out of the negotiations between ISPs and rightsholders currently being chaired by OfCom. As recent news reports show, rightsholders are already levelling false accusations of file-sharing at consumers. Without proper safeguards, many more consumers will suffer. The clandestine OfCom negotiations are a disgrace.

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October 31, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Remix the Big Picture

As regular readers will know, on 11 October 2008, thousands of images of the database state sent in from around the UK by citizens fed up with Government's cavalier attitude to their civil liberties were combined to show Parliament what will happen if it continues to allow itself to be frog­marched away from freedom.

The Big Picture in situ - thanks, Felix_cohen

"The Big Picture" was part of a worldwide day of protest dubbed "Freedom Not Fear".

But we want the Big Picture to live on beyond Freedom Not Fear day. So we invite you to download it and turn it into whatever you can think of - T-shirts, screensavers, posters, mugs, duvet covers, curtains, tablecloths, even boat sails (it's big enough).

The whopping 5.4MB high-res image is now available for download under a CC-Attribution-ShareAlike licence from the ORG wiki. And if you're looking to do something even more pixel-tastic with it, there's a 17.2MB file available on request.

All we ask (beyond the licence terms) is that you let us know if you've found a good use for it, and consider dropping a percentage of any financial gains you get from it in the Big Picture Honesty Box (via Paypal).

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October 31, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - October 2008

Read on for the monthly roundup of our works. This month really was a busy one with the big news that we're recruiting a new Executive Director as well as some great events and briefing documents. Also, tickets are now available for our xmas party.

Supporter update - October 2008

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October 27, 2008 | Becky Hogge

No e-voting in next year's elections

The Government have announced today that they do not plan to run e-voting pilots during the 2009 European or local elections. Answering a written question from Conservative MP Eleanor Laing, Michael Wills stated that:

"Further work on remote electronic voting will be funded as necessary from existing budgets agreed for Electoral Modernisation, subject to ministerial and HM Treasury approval. The Government are currently taking stock of the previous work on remote e-voting, including the experience gained in earlier pilots, and the responses to the consultation on election day, to inform the way forward."

As we observed when we released our highly critical report of e-counting in this year's London Elections, the electoral timetable was always likely to preclude the deployment of computers in elections for next year.

The interesting thing to see will be whether HM Treasury approve the Ministry of Justice Electoral Modernisation budget for 2009. Normally, this would be a formality, but in these times of fiscal prudence the Treasury may be encouraged to see sense and cut the budget for this doomed programme, which, as the Open Rights Group has long contested, presents a real threat to our democracy.

You can see the ORG response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation question on remote electronic voting here.

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October 24, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Come see Neil Gaiman talk in London tonight

Update 3: And here's links to the recording in MP3 and Ogg

Update 2: Here's the audio recording of Neil Gaiman talking at our event last week

Update (15:00) - That's it, guys - I'm afraid all our 200 tickets are now spoken for. Anyone not lucky enough to have secured a place for tonight, placate yourselves with the knowledge that an audio recording of the event will be available just as soon as we can afterwards.

Neil Gaiman (props to Dan Morelle for the image)We've had about half a dozen returns for tonight's "Piracy vs Obscurity" event at the Crypt on the Green in Clerkenwell. If you're a Neil Gaiman fan, and you'd like to attend, email info [AT] openrightsgroup [DOT] org and we'll try and squeeze you in - sorry we're now sold out.

Tickets are £10 (or £5 for ORG supporters) payable in cash on the door. In return you'll get to hear our illustrious patron talk about piracy from the perspective of the creator, you'll get to quiz him on his views and work, and you'll even get the chance to win a copy of his new title The Graveyard Book.

Details of the event:

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October 22, 2008 | William Heath

The biggest and best job in European digital rights campaigning falls vacant in 2009

After two very successful years as Executive Director of ORG, Becky Hogge, who took over from the founding director Suw Charman, has advised the Board she'd like to move on early in 2009. This means that with immediate effect ORG is recruiting its next Executive Director.

The job advert is here and the full job description here. Please point these out to people you consider exceptional candidates for this demanding and exciting role.

We're immensely proud of the progress Becky has made both on specific copyright and surveillance campaigns, and more generally in building a financially sustainable basis for ORG. We knew ORG was taking on a first-rate journalist with a clear grasp of the issues and a great voice for radio, but we're delighted by what she has also delivered as the business manager of a small and highly effective NGO.

Becky will of course remain associated with ORG. She will offer the incoming director all possible support during and beyond a handover period, and she'll carrying on paying her fiver as we all will until these issues we care about are sorted.

Our focus for now is an intense period of recruitment to get the best possible candidate to take ORG forward.

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October 21, 2008 | Michael Holloway

To 1,000 - and beyond!

This week, to encourage more people to join up and support Open Rights with a fiver per month, we're giving away copies of Ray Corrigan's Digital Decision-Making: Back to the Future. Ray is a rapid-fire blogger with a big interest in digital rights issues whose work has a historical, home-grown perspective and a sharp sense of humour. If you want one of five signed copies of the book, then please sign up today and note 'Ray da Man' in the 'where i heard about ORG' box. We'll send the books to whoevers' fivers arrive the quickest! Here's a quote from the synopsis to whet your appetites:

Since the general public began to use the Internet in the mid 1990s, there has been a vast amount of investment by governments and commerce in digital communications technologies. There has also been a fair degree of confusion and sometimes controversy about the purpose and effectiveness of such technologies, for example the proposed UK identity card system. Decisions about digital communications technologies are not always so clearly a subject of political concern as is the case with identity cards.The far-reaching implications for commerce and society of some of these decisions in invisible or opaque specialist fields, however, mean they should be matters of concern for every citizen. This book argues that: decisions should be based on an understanding of the systems, technology and environment within which they operate; experts and ordinary people should work together; and, technology and law are evolving in restrictive rather than enabling ways.

Its looking pretty tight as to whether we hit our interim target of 1,000 fivers per month by the end of October. Although we're still rising, the rate of new supporters has slowed significantly this month. Please, if you're already a supporter then spread the word about our works on your networks. The graph below - updated since the last mention - shows many of our supporters are already helping promote digital rights and getting solid results. As you can see, Glyn and Tom are now level-pegging for the Asus, with William and Danny making a late burst.

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