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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Make sure MEPs hear your views on copyright term extension - get in touch today

Contact your MEPs now. The European Parliament has begun preparing its opinion on the European Commission's flawed proposal to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings. MEPs have been appointed to act as rapporteurs, who will guide the committees that will recommend how Parliament should vote. Your MEPs need to know that their voters are concerned and paying attention - get in touch with them to let them know your concerns. To help you do this we've prepared a guide to lobbying your MEPs (click to download) and a briefing pack (click to download).

Lobbyists for term extension are making the case to MEPs inside the European Parliament right now. But your voice is stronger than any lobbyist. We can't overstate it: the most important thing you can do to stop term extension is to let your MEPs know your concerns so they an see and hear your side. Be aware also that MEPs can be deluged with information on many topics and appreciate being treated as individuals. If you want to travel to Brussels to meet your MEPs and need help, drop us a line. If you have a story or an interest that we should know about, drop us a line. Now is the time to speak, so use your voice wisely!

We'll keep you updated of major developments, but you can track the proposal on the Parliament website and the details of relevant committees and MEP members are also available. Currently Legal Affairs (JURI) are leading. Three other committees - Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO); Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE); and Culture and Education (CULT), will also help.

In the meantime the Directive is also being discussed by representatives of Member States in the Council of Ministers. And criticism of the Commission's proposal is emerging all over Europe.

The world leading Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property Law in Munich, has released a statement concluding that prolonging the term of protection "cannot be justified from any point of view."

Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, Director of the Institute for Information Law (IViR) in Amsterdam, and one of the Commission's own advisers, has accused Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of intentionally misleading policy-makers with the proposal.

Pekka Gronow, sound archivist, author of "An International History of the Recording Industry", and adjunct professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Helsinki, has written and concluded that performers benefit very little from the proposed extension ("in most cases the resulting sums will not even cover bank charges").

And of course, ORG have written to the authorities in the UK, explaining exactly why the proposal makes no sense.

Thanks to inyucho for the image.

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October 03, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Show Parliament the Big Picture

Big Ben being watchedI'm pleased to announce that I can now reveal the location for our live collage of the hundreds of surveillance state photos you've been taking this week for the Freedom Not Fear, Big Picture event.

On 11 October, we'll gather underneath the statue of Winston Churchill on Parliament Square in London to build an image showing where the incremental invasions of our privacy you've been documenting will eventually lead British society. We need ten or so people to help, so if you'd like to offer a hand, email info [AT] and let us know.

On Monday, ORG and No2ID put out a call for people to take photos of stuff that embodies the database state, and the UK’s world-famous surveillance society. Since then, hundreds of photos of surveillance cameras and other database state ephemera from all over the country have been uploaded to Flickr or emailed to There's still time to get snapping, so if you fancy getting involved, here are the easy-to-follow instructions:

  1. Spot something that embodies the UK's wholesale transformation into the surveillance society/database state. Subjects might include your local CCTV camera(s), or fingerprinting equipment in your child's school library
  2. Snap it
  3. Upload it to Flickr and tag it "FNFBigPicture" - please use an Attribution Creative Commons license* (alternatively, email your picture to
  4. That's it!

*We need you to license it this way because we want to give the image to newspapers to run on the day.

Freedom not Fear is an international day of action for democracy, free speech, human rights and civil liberties, and events to celebrate these central tenets of a just society will be taking place all over the world.

Thanks to stephenjjohnson@flickr for the image.

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October 02, 2008 | Michael Holloway

ORG-GRO: Aiming for 1,000 this month!

This post contains both good and bad news.

The good news is that the community is really helping in our mission to achieve financial sustainability and a secure future for digital rights. The chart below shows how many new supporters you have successfully recruited: a mix of blogging and friendly persuasion have contributed a lot to our growth since July of this year.

Tom, currently the top recruiter, is in line to win the Asus Eee PC (but remember, there's still plenty of time to catch up with him) and there's a good crowd who've recruited three or more new supporters so will receive a special T-shirt. Please, if you have a blog, encourage your readers to join ORG. If you know people sympathetic to the cause, convince them to sign up. And if you have spare time, read this page or get in touch for more ideas to help us recruit new supporters. If even a small proportion of our readers and supporters increase their involvement, we would smash our target.

Tom Reynolds: 14, Glyn Wintle: 12, Danny O Brien: 12, Simon Willison: 7, Richard King: 7, Sheila Ellen: 7

Onto the bad news: this week the widgetometer slipped from 968 to 960 fivers per month. The drop is largely explained by the twenty or so supporters' donations that every month fail to arrive as expected. This seems to be mainly administrative error, such as forgetting annual payments or Paypal subscriptions ending as credit cards expire, rather than a conscious decision to stop making regular donations. After a couple of reminders, the payments generally restart. We have been attracting a lot of new supporters but not, in the last week anyway, enough to balance out the regular drop. We wanted to share this with you to highlight how tough it's been to build up our supporter base. Also, we hope this will encourage you to use your networks to reach our target.

That aside, the ORG-GRO supporter drive has been a real success so far and you guys - especially the recruiters in the chart - deserve a huge thanks. This month, let's try and break through the 1,000 mark. That's only another forty supporters we need to attract by the end of October. Come on - join up!

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September 30, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - September 2008

Here's your regular, concentrated dose of ORG's activities for the past the month:

Click to read the September 2008 supporter update

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  • June 28: ORG Edinburgh: Social with Chief Operating Officer Martha Dark
  • ORG Aberdeen: Cryptonoise May 2018
  • ORG Glasgow: A discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • ORG Aberdeen: March Cryptonoise event