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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October 16, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Intercept Modernisation: plans put on hold to allow for public consultation

As regular readers will know, the Open Rights Group have been following developments around what is known as the Intercept Modernisation Programme with great interest and concern. The programme has been reported to include a proposal to centralise the electronic communications traffic data of the entire UK population in a database under the control of Government authorities.

Reports yesterday suggest that the Home Office are reconsidering tabling the Communications Data Bill, the bill that would give this programme legislative cover, this year. In a speech to the ippr, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

The changes we need to make may require legislation. The safeguards we will want to put in place certainly will. And we may need legislation to test what a solution will look like.

But before proceeding to legislation, I am clear that we need to consult widely with the public and all interested parties to set out the emerging problem, the important capability gaps that we need to address and to look at the possible solutions. We also need to agree what safeguards will be needed, in addition to the many we have in place already, to provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties.

This consultation will begin in the New Year and I want this to be combined with a well-informed debate characterised by openness, rather than mere opinion, by reason and reasonableness. In this, as in the other work we do, my aim is to achieve a consensus and I hope that others will approach the serious issues posed for our national security capabilities in the same spirit.

So let me set the terms for that open and reasoned debate now, and be clear on what we are not going to do.

There are no plans for an enormous database which will contain the content of your emails, the texts that you send or the chats you have on the phone or online. Nor are we going to give local authorities the power to trawl through such a database in the interest of investigating lower level criminality under the spurious cover of counter terrorist legislation.

Local authorities do not have the power to listen to your calls now and they never will in future. You would rightly object to proposals of this kind and I would not consider them. What we will be proposing will be options which follow the key principles which govern all our work in this area – the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Creating this database - essentially an archive of every citizen's movements in the communications space - would drastically alter the relationship between the citizen and the state, handing national security and law enforcement agencies immense power to invade the private lives of ordinary people. It's absolutely right to call for a public debate on this issue, and ORG welcomes this call - cautiously.

It's clear the Home Office have realised that Intercept Modernisation presents a political problem, but have they also realised the deeper challenge to our democratic society their plans present? One way to answer this question would be to find out whether, as reports suggest, GCHQ are already pilotting the programme. Our Freedom of Informaiton request - if and when the Home Office finally answer it - may shed more light on this question.



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October 14, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Open Source for Games Developers - A Debate on New Business Models

London Games Fringe

With the games industry apparently enthralled by DRM and committed to criminalising their customers, our upcoming event as part of the London Games Fringe is especially timely. Open Rights Group in conjunction with Own-It will co-host a panel discussion on the role of open source in the games industry and invites all our readers and supporters to join the debate. Click here for more information and to sign up for your free ticket.

The event will feature games industry practicioners, a specialist lawyer and an academic to discuss alternative business models based on open source technology and how they will influence the future of the games industry. The panel, chaired by Becky Hogge, will feature Chris Deering (Chairman of Codemasters Group), Steven Goodwin (Alten8), Dr Andrew A. Adams and Vincent Scheurer (Sarassin LLP).

For tickets, more information on the topics for discussion and speaker biographies, click through to Own-It's website. We will, as usual, make available an audio recording for those who can't attend on the night.

When? 1800 - 2100, Tuesday 28 October 2008 (Panel 'til 2000, followed by drinks) Where? 01zero-one, Westminster Kingsway College, Hopkins Street, London, W1F 0HS. Click here for location. How? Sign up here for your free ticket.

This event is part of the London Games Fringe, a festival of alternative gaming events at the end of October 2008, organised by artists, academics, gamers, game developers, educators and creative professionals from a wide range of different media.

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October 11, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Freedom Not Fear: the Big Picture unveiled on Parliament Square

Thanks to everyone who came along to Parliament Square this morning and made the ORG/No2ID "Big Picture" event such a success. The sun was shining as we constructed a massive 4m x 5m collage of all the photos you've been uploading of UK surveillance state ephemeraover the past couple of weeks.

The result was this huge, Big-Brother-esque photo of Gordon Brown looking over Parliament Square against a background of barbed wire, handcuffs and double helices: an image of the society of total surveillance the UK is rapidly becoming. Our message was clear: although as individuals we only see incremental invasions of our privacy, put together, these creeping changes constitute a wholesale shift towards a society predicated not on freedom, but on fear.

A collage of events at the Big Picture

As you can see from the photos of the event, despite the seriousness of our message, we had a lot of fun delivering it to Parliament. Thanks to the ORG and No2ID communities, Action on Rights for Children and Godalming Quakers (and of course to the special envoy sent from the under-twos community to speak out against ContactPoint), for coming along and helping out. Credits to Christopher Scally for artwork, AndreaMosaic for the mosaicing tools, Tom Ackers for Production Coordination and everyone who contributed photos of surveillance state ephemera.

We'll be making a high quality download of the image available for re-use next week. Until then, you can see more images of the event here.

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EU Commission says 'non' as France tries to ditch key telecoms package amendment

In a press conference on monday the European Commission denied a request by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, to reject an amendment voted on by the European Parliament in September's Telecoms Package vote:

"The amendment on a new regulatory framework for telecommunications stated “no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users, without a priori ruling by the judicial authorities."

The amendment in question (138) is one we asked you to write to your MEPs about prior to September's plenary in the European Parliament. You can read more on the story from the European Voice , the Commission's statement is available to read, while the press conference is available on Youtube.

In other news the UK government has answered an epetition to the Prime Minister seeking "to not force internet service providers to act ... for the RIAA and be treated like a common courier.” The Prime Minister's response does not go much further beyond the position already stated in the Government's current consultation.

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: E-voting's Unsolvable Problem-->
  • ORG Glasgow: A discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • ORG Aberdeen: March Cryptonoise event
  • ORG North East: Take control of your online life
  • ORG Cambridge: Monthly March Meetup