January 04, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Computer Misuse Act guidance published

Whilst ORG was on holiday, the Crown Prosecution Service published long-awaited guidance on section 3A of the Computer Misuse Act, which comes into force in April 2008 and outlaws making, supplying or obtaining "hacking tools". Back in 2006, when amendments to the Computer Misuse Act were discussed in Parliament, ORG echoed widely-reported concerns that the legislation was far too broad. The security community were especially alarmed that tools routinely used to test for vulnerabilities or to stress-test networks would be erroneously covered by the legislation.

The guidelines bring some good news for developers, in that the offence will not be triggered unless hacking tools are developed "primarily, deliberately and for the sole purpose of committing a Computer Misuse Act offence". However, the trigger for distribution offences - whether the tool is "available on a wide scale commercial basis and sold through legitimate channels" - should cause alarm amongst open source advocates.

ORG Advisory Council member Richard Clayton has provided excellent analysis of the guidance at Light Blue Touchpaper, and you can read up on the issue on the ORG wiki.

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January 03, 2008 | Becky Hogge

MPs call for tougher data protection regime

The House of Commons Justice Committee has today released a report into the protection of public data. The report is a good summary of the state of play and, in particular, of developments since the Chancellor announced to Parliament in November last year that HMRC had lost confidential records affecting 25 million UK citizens.

The report recommends a data breach notification law, criminal penalties for data controllers who are responsible for reckless or repeated security breaches and greater powers and resources for the Information Commissioner's Office. Currently, the Information Commissioner receives roughly £10 million each year to conduct all of his data protection activities.

These recommendations echo those made by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in August 2007, recommendations that the Government rejected almost entirely. Perhaps the public outcry following the HMRC data security breach will help Government think again.

Today's report is explicit about the real risks associated with big databases containing personal data that are open to large numbers of licensed users, and mentions the children's database ContactPoint, as well as the planned National Identity Register. It also notes further risks associated with obligations to share data with EU member states:

"If data held by the Government is available for inspection outside the jurisdiction, then the importance of restricting the amount of data held, as well as proper policing of who had access to it, takes on even greater importance."

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January 02, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - December 2007

Follow this link to read our December 2007 Supporters Update. Along with details of our recent media forays and major success for Canadian copyright activists, we ask that you contact your MP over the 'privacy timebomb' and that you get involved with consultations (on Freedom of Information and Data Sharing regulations).

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December 21, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Gowers update

Over a year since Andrew Gowers made his recommendations for the reform of IP law, the UK Intellectual Property Office has finally announced a date for the first stage of a two-part consultation into modifications to the copyright rules so that private individuals, students and libraries can benefit from improved access to copyright material. A launch event will take place on 8 January at the British Library, and all interested parties are welcome to attend. Email copyrightconsultation [AT] with your name, job title and the company or organisation you represent if you want to be on the list.

In his email inviting ORG to attend, Lord Triesman, the minister for intellectual property, assured us that he is "eager that all interests should make the fullest use of the consultation." His speech to the Social Market Foundation last month [pdf] predicted much debate around Gowers' recommended format-shifting exception:

"[This] recommendation raises an interesting point: there are some people who believe that such a change to the law will provide the consumer with a ‘right’ to copy a DVD for example – but that is not the case. Any change in the law will merely provide an exception from infringement for certain limited acts, and will not override any terms and conditions which the consumer agrees to when he or she buys a DVD in the first place."

Meanwhile, the UK IPO has been quietly implementing Gowers Review recommendation numbers 46 and 47. Thanks to the IPKat for bringing ORG's attention to the fact that we had missed the deadline for putting forward a suitably open candidate to the new Strategic Advisory Board on Intellectual Property, a panel that will advise Government on IP issues. Since ORG is subscribed to a large number of UK IPO message lists, we were surprised not to be informed that recruitment was underway. So we've asked the UK IPO to consider a late application for SABIP from the Open Rights Group.

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December 17, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Thanks for the party!


Thanks to all the guys and girls who brought their bonhommie and yuletide spirit down on Saturday for our xmas party. The strong turnout could be explained by our Copyfighters revival but then again maybe the promise of free drink and party bags brought the crowds in. Either way it was great to see so many ORG volunteers and supporters getting down and festive. Particular highlights for me were the 650 Santas who swept through the venue on a boozy rampage, my first-ever game of werewolf and singing happy birthday to Creative Commons.

CC cake

If you've uploaded photos of the night, please link them from the comments section below so we can all enjoy them. Also, please let us know if you want more Copyfighters in 2008. For the unitiated this informal, social event involves a trip to Speakers Corner for digital rights activists to vent on the day's most pressing issues. If there's sufficient support then we should bring it back.

Special thanks to Chris, Glyn, Sheila and Janita who helped pack the party bags. Most special thanks to Ian and Matthew from BBC Backstage who did much of the hosting and organisation.

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December 14, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Write to your MP today: stop the Government's privacy timebomb

On Monday next week Kieron Poynter of PricewaterhouseCoopers will publish his report into the failures that led to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) losing 25 million confidential records about UK citizens claiming child benefit. The HMRC fiasco, and privacy debacles before and since, demonstrate a public sector culture of complete disregard for the privacy and security of individuals in the UK.

There will be a Ministerial statement about the Poynter Review in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon. If you haven't already, please write to your MP today and ask her or him to put your concerns to policy-makers during this session. This culture of disregard for personal privacy combined with the Government's continued belief in the aggregation and sharing of vast amounts of personal data across agencies is a privacy timebomb.

If you're unsure how to write an effective missive to your MP, then read the ORG wiki's handy guide. What follow are some key points and requests to put to your MP for you to choose from - click on the links for further ideas and resources.

You could also ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion proposed by Annette Brooke MP which calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision to proceed with the children's database ContactPoint.

A culture of disregard

Discgate was not an isolated incident. Seven months before the DVDs went missing, HMRC had already established a practice of recording sensitive data onto DVDs, secured only with a password and dispatched via internal mail. Emails sent back and forth about this debacle, the largest ever data breach to hit the UK, cite cost as the reason given for not filtering personal details out of the data. But how much is your privacy worth to you?

This is not just about the HMRC. The ORG wiki's log of UK privacy debacles has been struggling to keep up with the public sector bodies who have been queuing up to admit data breaches since the HMRC announcement. The HMRC data breach may be the biggest but it was not the first and it will not be the last.

If you're MP is wondering why a junior employee was able to download the information to CDs in the first place, then they're in good company:

"I would question whether anybody should be allowed to download an entire database of this scale without going through the most rigorous pre-authorisation checks."

"It was a really shocking example of loss of security."

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas

"How you can have a system which allows you to copy a whole database onto a disk is of concern,"

"Clearly there are issues about when the data was accessed and by whom. They should have had access controls and authorisation levels to make it physically impossible to burn a disc off the database without the say-so of the chairman of HMRC. Why isn't the technology there to do that? It isn't rocket science."

Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford

The Information Commissioner described the HMRC breach as "the worst the ICO has encountered" and said it called into question the security of the entire system of data sharing in government. He called for a review of the national identity register, a call which echoes a marked shift in public opinion on ID cards, and a recommendation for more debate about ID cards from thinktank Demos, who concluded a year-long study of data-sharing last week. The Government's data minister, Michael Wills MP, has said that plans for the national ID register need looking at again. Ask that your MP pressures the government to re-examine the flawed National Identity Register.

On 27 November, children's Minister Kevin Brennan announced an independent assessment of the security procedures surrounding ContactPoint, to be conducted by Deloitte. An Early Day Motion asking Government to go further, and consider recommendations to scrap the idea, is currently collecting signatures: please encourage your MP to sign.

The fairytale of biometrics

For people in technology, one of the most worrying developments since this crisis has been ministers' using it as an excuse to push for solutions based around biometrics, solutions that would actually increase the privacy risks we are exposed to. Six leading academics (including two Open Rights Group Advisory Council members) recently wrote to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to express their dismay at how biometrics are seen as a magic fix for improving security:

"These assertions are based on a fairy-tale view of the capabilities of the technology and in addition, only deal with one aspect of the problems that this type of data breach causes. ... Furthermore, biometric checks at the time of usage do not of themselves make any difference whatsoever to the possibility of the type of disaster that has just occurred at HMRC. This type of data leakage, which occurs regularly across Government, will continue to occur until there is a radical change in the culture both of system designer and system users. The safety, security and privacy of personal data has to become the primary requirement in the design, implementation, operation and auditing of systems of this kind."

Professor Ross Anderson, Security Engineering, University of Cambridge
Dr Richard Clayton, University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
Dr Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Dr Brian Gladman, Ministry of Defence and NATO (retired)
Professor Angela Sasse, Department of Computer Science, University College London
Professor Martyn Thomas, CBE FREng, Software Engineering, University of Oxford

These technologies are unproven and will not be ready for commercial deployment for another 15 years. Ask your MP to encourage the Government to listen to the facts on biometrics.

Brushing aside expert advice

Unfortunately, the skills and knowledge necessary for successfully procuring, managing and securing computer systems are not commonly possessed by Government Ministers or senior managers in the civil service. This might not be such a problem, were the Government to listen to the advice that has been readily offered by expert groups during the quest towards Transformational Government, and their warnings about giving thousands of people access to large, centralised databases. But then, why should it, when apparently it doesn't even listen to warnings from its own internal auditors?

"Again and again and again these warnings have been made in different contexts by expert groups and the Government has not been interested."

Professor Ross Anderson

We are living in an age where systems dealing with our identity must be designed from the bottom up not to leak information in spite of being breached. Perhaps I should say, "redesigned from the bottom up", because today’s systems rarely meet the bar. ... There is no need to store all of society’s dynamite in one place, and no need to run the risk of the collosal explosion that an error in procedure might produce.

Britain’s HMRC Identity Chernobyl - Kim Cameron (Microsoft's Chief Architect of Identity)

Ask your MP to encourage the Government to heed the warnings of these and other experts.

Together, we can stop the Government's privacy timebomb. If you haven't got time to write to your MP today, please write on the weekend. The more missives MPs receive on Monday morning, the more they will recognise the public mood on this issue, and the more likely they will be to raise their objections in Parliament on Monday afternoon.

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December 12, 2007 | Michael Holloway

ORG Christmas Party - now with added CC birthday celebrations

Creative Commons (CC) celebrates its fifth birthday this weekend with a series of local celebrations across the globe, including Beijing, Berlin, San Francisco and Seoul. If you're part of the worldwide CC Community, follow this link for details of all the different parties. And if you're not yet aware of CC's excellent and thoroughly open projects, from their suite of 'some rights reserved' licences to the remix-community-incubator ccMixter, then be sure to get familiar.

ORG's invitation to join the party arrived a little late but luckily we already had a party planned for this weekend. So we'll join in the celebrations by raising a toast and a slice of cake to legal and creative sharing at our christmas party, which is this Saturday 15 December. If you're a part of the CC community please come down and join our bash. The event is hosted by BBC Backstage and we have a whole heap of fun planned for our guests, including a very special revival of Cory Doctorow's Copyfighters.

Here's all the details, including instructions for signing up:

Where? Ye Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA When? 19.30 - 02:00, Saturday 15 December 2007 Tickets: via Eventwax - click here to register Any questions? Phone +44 (0)20 7096 1079 or email info at openrightsgroup dot org.

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December 06, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Happy birthday Gowers - but where are our reforms?

A year ago today, the Gowers Review was released to the public. The Government accepted all of the 54 recommendations it made, and experts welcomed the balanced approach it took to intellectual property law in the digital age, since it matched greater flexibility with tougher measures on enforcement (although at the time, we flagged its failure to distinguish between large-scale commercial counterfeiting, and small-scale non-commercial acts carried out by individuals, now a live issue with current IPRED 2 negotiations). But one year on, things don't look quite so rosy.

I interviewed Andrew Gowers a few hours after the release of the Review. He said that enforcement and flexibility were "two sides of the same coin". The Review states:

"Copyright in the UK presently suffers from a marked lack of public legitimacy. It is perceived to be overly restrictive, with little guilt or sanction associated with infringement."

Gowers's suite of recommendations attempted to redress this situation by re-instating the balance in copyright law. So how has Government performed in implementing Gowers's recommendations?

In April this year, changes to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act came into force that allowed Trading Standards to enter premises and seize goods and documents they believe to be involved in copyright infringement. These changes were backed by £5m in new funding for Trading Standards. There is little question that this contributed to the arrests of webmasters at TV-links and Oink later in the year.

In May, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) quietly delayed its consultations on changes to the law that would allow a private copying exception, an exception for researchers, for libraries and educators, and for those creating works of parody or pastiche out of copyrighted works.

In November, at an event hosted by the Social Market Foundation, the recording industry revealed plans to cooperate with ISPs and launch a "3 steps and you're terminated" regime that would cut off the internet connections associated with people believed to be sharing copyrighted works unlawfully. This industry cooperation is recommendation 39 of the Gowers Review, and it looks to be on schedule.

A call to the UK IPO yesterday confirmed that consultations on the exceptions to copyright law have been further delayed, and will now not be seen until the New Year. These are consultations, the first baby step in implementation, and it's unlikely that any actual legal amendments will be seen until 2009 at the earliest.

What's more, when the Open Rights Group met with culture minister Margaret Hodge and senior officers from DCMS and the UK IPO in October, it was revealed that actions to implement recommendation 11, that copyright should be amended at the European level to create an exception for transformative works, had not even been timetabled.

If enforcement and flexibility are two sides of the same coin, then one year on it looks like the toss has definitely gone to enforcement. This means that Government is in effect making the situation worse: concentrating on strengthening enforcement measures while failing to address the inherent inflexibility of copyright law that Gowers identified as a key factor in the general public's disrespect for the law.

It's up to all of us who submitted evidence to Gowers in 2006 to keep the pressure up on Government to make good on their promise to reform copyright for the digital age.

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