I'm delighted to be writing this as the new Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, whose work I have been watching with enthusiasm for the last few years.
In the last two years, under Becky's leadership, ORG has developed a formidable media presence, and built a reputation for strong, evidence-based policy in fields as diverse as copyright enforcement, communications interception and electronic voting. ORG's profile has radically increased: both among legislators in Westminster and Brussels, and among the communities of technology enthusiasts who continue to provide the core funds which keep the organisation going.
Becky is rightly proud of her part in developing ORG, and I'm very pleased to be taking up the reins of this inspiring organisation in the healthy and promising state it is in today. I'd like to offer her my thanks for her work.
First impressions of the task we face are that ORG's role needs to be felt ever more strongly over the coming years.
Because the fact is that we face a lot of change in the digital era, and people like you, our supporters, Board and Advisory Council are the ones who understand what citizens want. Your voice is vital to hear if we don't want the digital era shaped exclusively by corporate IT salesmen and internal Government agendas.
Change is coming rapidly – and ORG is the leading voice championing your rights. Privacy, civil rights and personal security are easy to be undermined by Government policy if it runs ahead with its desire to accrue information.
Sometimes policy makers are prone to admit that we might have a point, but they don't think anyone cares. This is where you come in. Your voice needs to be heard.
An immediate example of this is heading our way with Jacqui Smith's proposals for “modernising” Government's communications interceptions capabilities. What this means we will find out next month: but if reports that it includes an archive of the communication activities of every UK citizen are true, logging who you contact, where and when, then you can be sure that ORG will be speaking out.
It's easy to start sounding paranoid. But freedoms are best defended by setting clear boundaries between citizens and the state. And abuses are best prevented by designing them out of our systems.
ORG is also right now campaigning on changes to copyright. If Government policy is not given full scrutiny, and if your voice is not heard, lobbyists can easily persuade lawmakers to rig the game in favour of established players challenged by technological change.
Thanks in part to ORG, the Gowers Review recognised that copyrights and patents were about balancing economic interests, and getting the best for society. Unfortunately, the European Commission, who appear to only have ears for the recording industry, has taken a rather different tack with their current Term Extension Directive, proposing to nearly double the term of protection for sound recordings.
But, although the proposal is made in the name of poor and ageing session musicians, 80% would go straight into the pockets of big media conglomerates, and nearly all the rest to the biggest recording artists. Meanwhile, many of the cultural and economic benefits of being able to explore music from the recent past will be cut off, and creation of new works will be discouraged in favour of reselling back catalogues.
Campaigning for a saner, citizen-based and evidence-based approach to digital rights was the reason why ORG was formed, and why ORG's role is becoming ever more vital.
It's also why ORG will be opening up the organisation and becoming more active at the grassroots, including more tools for you to campaign directly. Your voice needs to be heard, alongside ORG's. Let's work together as online citizens, for an open, democratic and creative society, and to make sure our digital rights are understood and respected.