May 06, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Thanks to all ORG Election Observers!

An ORG election observer A huge thanks to everyone who devoted their day to democracy last week, and joined the Open Rights Group Election Watch 2008. Over the next month, we'll be compiling a report of what we saw at the elections, and specifically at the electronic count of 7 million ballot papers in Alexandra Palace, ExCel and Olympia on 2 May.

Writing the report will involve collating the findings of our nearly 30-strong team of volunteer observers, each of whom was officially accredited by the Electoral Commission. We'll also be undertaking detailed analysis of rejected ballot figures, and sifting through reports commissioned by London Elects from KPMG and Deloitte on the software and hardware used at the electronic count, and on London Elect's business continuity processes. We expect to publish our final report in mid-June. Watch this space!

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April 30, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - April 2008

Its that time again and this month we have news on our vacancy for a campaigner, electionwatch '08 and the usual round-up of press and activities.

Click to read the April 2008 supporter update

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April 25, 2008 | Becky Hogge

ORG is hiring!

Thanks to a generous grant from the Open Society Institute, we're seeking to expand our campaigning team. We're looking for an experienced and committed digital rights campaigner to amplify our work on issues around copyright reform and copyright infringement, taking the concerns of ORG and its supporters to Europe and beyond.

The right candidate will be a self-starter, someone who can set their own goals, delegate and prioritise and who has the ability to initiate and successfully execute projects. It's an exciting opportunity to be part of a small, committed team working to protect civil liberties and consumer rights in the digital age.

If you're interested in applying, please read this job description for further details about the position. CVs and covering letters should be sent in .pdf format to michael [AT] by midnight on Sunday 11 May. Interviews will take place in central London in the period 14-16 May.

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April 23, 2008 | Becky Hogge

FIPR calls on Home Office to withdraw misleading advice on Phorm

The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has today sent the Home Office in-depth legal analysis [pdf] of the Phorm behavioural advertising system. The analysis has been produced by FIPR's General Counsel (and ORG Advisory Council member) Nicholas Bohm, and complements the technical analysis produced by Richard Clayton earlier this month [pdf]. The analysis shows that Phorm's systems involve interception of communications contrary to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, fraud, contrary to the Fraud Act, and therefore unlawful processing of personal data, contrary to the Data Protection Act. It states that individual directors and managers of the Internet Service Providers involved could be criminally liable for these offences, if roll out of Phorm goes ahead.

FIPR want the Home Office to withdraw informal advice they issued in February, which FIPR say wrongly concluded the system is lawful, creating "an obstacle to the just enforcement of the law". At the public meeting attended by Phorm and their critics last week, Simon Davies of 80/20 Thinking Ltd identified the legality of Phorm under RIPA as a legitimate issue, but urged participants not to get bogged down in a question which, in the end, can only be decided in a court of law. Hopefully, FIPR's legal analysis will bring UK citizens one step closer to an answer to the question "Is Phorm legal?". As Richard Clayton observes:

"The Home Office's superficial analysis said that the system would be lawful. Given their batting average at the High Court, relying upon their opinion was always unwise - this new paper spells out the errors they have made, and makes it essential that their report is withdrawn."


Previous posts on Phorm:

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April 10, 2008 | Becky Hogge

European Parliament condemns "3 strikes" approach

This morning, the European Parliament has voted to condemn member state plans to disconnect suspected illicit filesharers from the internet. In a fairly narrow vote, MEPs adopted an amendment to the so-called Bono Report on the Cultural Industries, which

"Calls on the Commission and the Member States to recognise that the Internet is a vast platform for cultural expression, access to knowledge, and democratic participation in European creativity, bringing generations together through the information society; calls on the Commission and the Member States, therefore, to avoid adopting measures conflicting with civil liberties and human rights and with the principles of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness, such as the interruption of Internet access."

The report is not legally binding, but it does signifiy resistance among MEPs to measures currently being implemented in France to disconnect suspected illicit filesharers. This is especially relevant as France will take over the European presidency in July, and many fear that President Sarkozy would use the opportunity to push the so-called "Oliviennes" strategy Europe-wide.

The UK government will consult UK citizens on their plans to tackle illicit filesharing this Spring. We've already blogged about ORG's objections to UK proposals here. In short, and as the European Parliament have recognised today, they are disproportionate, they lack consumer safeguards and they won't stop illicit filesharing.

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April 09, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Phorm: public meeting announced for next Tuesday

Last month, we announced that Phorm, the company whose technology delivers targetted ads based on where you visit on the web, were planning to hold a public meeting to face their critics. Details of the meeting have now been announced.

When: Tuesday, 15 April, 1830 - 2030 Where: The Lecture Theatre, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental & African Studies, London (map)

The meeting is being hosted by 80/20 Thinking Ltd, and you can read more details about it on their website. Although the meeting is free for all to attend, 80/20 Thinking are asking that you send them an email to to let them know you're coming along. From the 80/20 Thinking website:

80/20 Thinking, with the full cooperation of Phorm, has decided to organise a public meeting as part of the PIA (privacy impact assessment) process. We intend to use feedback from this event to inform the PIA. A final version of the PIA will be published by the end of April 2008.

Attendees are encouraged to read the technical analysis produced by Richard Clayton [pdf] in advance of the meeting.

The Information Commissioner's Office have today released a further statement on Phorm, making clear their belief that any systems using Phorm (such as BT's webwise) need to seek the consent of their customers on an opt-in (and not an opt-out) basis.

I'll be going to the public meeting next Tuesday, so if you'd like to ask a question, but you can't make it yourself, please leave it in the comments.

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April 08, 2008 | Glyn Wintle

Fighting the data retention directive

The Open Rights Group is proud to be one of the 43 civil liberties NGOs and professional associations based in 11 European countries today submitting a brief to the European Court of Justice (PDF).The amicus brief asks the Court to annul an EU directive ordering the blanket registration of telecommunications and location data of 494 million Europeans.

As the document lays out, data retention violates the right to respect for private life and correspondence, freedom of expression and the right of providers to the protection of their property:

"While it threatens to inflict great damage on society, its potential benefit appears, overall, to be little. Data retention can support the protection of individual rights only in few and generally less important cases. A permanent, negative effect on crime levels is not to be expected... [With data retention in place] citizens constantly need to fear that their communications data may at some point lead to false incrimination or governmental or private abuse of the data. Because of this, traffic data retention endangers open communication in the whole of society."


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April 04, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Phorm analysis out

Richard Clayton has now published his technical analysis of Phorm. There's a good introduction to it on his Light Blue Touchpaper blog.

Phorm explained the process by which an initial web request is redirected three times (using HTTP 307 responses) within their system so that they can inspect cookies to determine if the user has opted out of their system, so that they can set a unique identifier for the user (or collect it if it already exists), and finally to add a cookie that they forge to appear to come from someone else’s website. A number of very well-informed people on the UKCrypto mailing list have suggested that the last of these actions may be illegal under the Fraud Act 2006 and/or the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Phorm also explained that they inspect a website’s “robots.txt” file to determine whether the website owner has specified that search engine “spiders” and other automated processing systems should not examine the site. This goes a little way towards obtaining the permission of the website owner for intercepting their traffic — however, in my view, failing to prohibit the GoogleBot from indexing your page is rather different from permitting your page contents to be snooped upon, so that Phorm can turn a profit from profiling your visitors.

Overall, I learnt nothing about the Phorm system that caused me to change my view that the system performs illegal interception as defined by s1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Read the rest here, or go straight to the technical analysis.

By coincidence, the Information Commisioner has released an updated statement on Phorm. From the looks of things, they have declined FIPR's invitation to consider the lawfulness of Phorm's data processing under legislation other than the Data Protection Act (such as RIPA). They have also failed to address the news that BT trialled Phorm without seeking consent from its users in 2006.

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