October 11, 2007 | Becky Hogge

UK Government accused of breaching state aid rules in software procurement

On Tuesday, John Pugh MP led an adjournment debate on IT software procurement, where he accused the UK government of excluding Linux and Mac Users from government services such as the Department of Work and Pensions online benefits system.

"The Government are spending public money, and in doing so, it is difficult to see how they are not also breaching state aid rules and providing illegal state aid. If someone cannot access benefits online without using a Windows-based computer, as is currently the case, I do not see how the Government can be doing anything other than involving themselves in illegal state aid."

Angela Eagle MP, speaking on behalf of the Treasury, neatly side-stepped Pugh's accusations, stating that "the Government must... provide software that is relevant to the computers that most people in the UK have" and that avoiding market distortion was "up to the people contracting". The debate is reminiscent of concerns about the BBC's Microsoft-only iPlayer raised by the Open Source Consortium, the Free Software Foundation, the Open Rights Group and many others over the Summer.

Also during the debate (well-spotted, Glyn!) it looked like Andrew Miller MP might have raised the spectre of Microsoft's failed OOXML standard, when he asked:

"Would it not help in the quest for openness if the British Standards Institution were to follow the lead in other parts of the world and make open source XML (sic) one of the standards to be applied throughout the world? It would mean that people working outside the Microsoft sphere could have access to the code, and it would help the world in future-proofing big projects such as the British Library archives."

You can read a full transcript of the debate here.

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October 09, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Today: Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement

John Pugh MP will today lead a Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement. The Liberal Democrat MP for Southport (and veteran speaker at ORG's e-voting events) is a well known advocate of free and open source software. Yesterday, he released the results of a survey he had conducted which showed that many local authorities had no real idea how much money is being spent on IT within their schools. From the Open Schools Alliance press release:

"The survey also found that while almost 50% of Local Authorities are using some form of open source software within their schools there is no apparent systematic strategy to get best value from such procurement. Only 3 of the respondents, Cumbria, East Yorkshire and Lancashire, offer an open source solution as a standard learning platform throughout their area."

You can watch the debate live from Westminster Hall - it starts at 12.30.

The Open Schools Alliance are hosting an event called "Success in Education" to look at issues surrounding the use of Free and Open Source software in education in Liverpool later this month.

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October 04, 2007 | Michael Holloway

ORG @ Conservatives conference 2007

ORG  at Conservative party conference

Our e-Voting campaign tour reached its triumphant climax this week in Blackpool. Jonathan Djanogly MP, the Shadow Solicitor General who was hugely complimentary about our work, joined Jason and the Electoral Commission on our panel to discuss the ills of electronic elections.

As in Brighton with the Lib Dems and in Bournemouth with Labour, the vast majority of delegates we spoke to and who attended our event agreed with our approach to the issue. Questions from the floor revealed concerns with accessibility, future developments in cryptography and also the lack of trust in the existing, paper-based system. Some attendees even took our printed materials back to their local parties to help spread the word.

The audio recording is available for download in both ogg vorbis and mp3 format. Or, listen below via the embedded media player. There's also a few more photos on flickr.

Thanks again to the JRRT, which funded this campaign; to Jason for leading our work on this issue; to William for expertly chairing the conference sessions and to the election observers who worked so hard to put together our elections report. ORG is already looking forward to the 2008 conference season!

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

ORG @ Labour Party conference 2007

The "should we trust electronic elections" bandwagon rolled onwards through Bournemouth and the Labour conference this week. Our aim was to both recruit more supporters and inform the party faithful that e-voting and e-counting are unsuitable for use in our democratic elections.

Our panel - chaired by William Heath - comprised of Alun Michael MP, Andrew Scallan (Electoral Commission) and ORG's e-voting supremo Jason Kitcat. As in Brighton, many in the audience shared our mistrust of electronic elections after difficult, personal experiences. Unlike Brighton, one attendee seemed very much in favour of holding future polls in a superstores.

We have both ogg vorbis and mp3 recordings of the hour-long debate. Listen in particular for Alun Michael praising ORG again and again for the fine work that went into our elections report! Thanks again to all the volunteer observers and Jason who led that effort. You can also listen here through our media player:

Next week we're at the Conservative conference (Monday, Tuesday), as well as the 'Future of Web Apps' (Wednesday, Thursday) and then the University of London Freshers Fair (Friday).

(Apologies: both our cameras experienced technical problems so sadly photos are in short supply. Also, my machine mysteriously chose to stop itself recording, although fortunately only a minute or two before close.)

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - September 2007

Here's this month's update, including tales from 'Conference' and much more besides. ORG Supporters Update - September 2007

If you're an org-supporter who wants Supporter Updates in their inbox, but don't currently receive, let us know.

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporter meetup in Blackpool this Monday, 1 October

If you live local to Blackpool, please come along for a drink and meet the ORG team this Monday evening. We’ll be in town for our fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference - part of the “Should we trust electronic elections” roadshow - and are really keen to meet ORG supporters in the area and find out about your digital rights concerns.

We’re meeting at 19.00, Monday 1 October at The Saddle Inn, 286 Whitegate Drive, Blackpool FY3 9PH. So if you’re a local activist or want to become more engaged with digital rights issues, come down for a chat.

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September 25, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporter meetup in Bournemouth this Thursday

If you live local to Bournemouth, please come along for a drink and meet the ORG staff this Thursday night. We're in town for our fringe event at the Labour Party Conference - part of the "Should we trust electronic elections" roadshow - and are really keen to meet ORG supporters in the area and find out about your digital rights concerns.

We’re meeting at 18.30, Thursday 27 September at The Inferno, 38 Holdenhurst Rd, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH8 8AD. So if you're a local activist or want to become more engaged with digital rights issues, come down for a chat.

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September 20, 2007 | Michael Holloway

GikII 2 - law, laughs and geekery

Instigated at Edinburgh AHRC in 2006, this year's GikII - a one day workshop on the intersections between law, technology and popular culture - took place yesterday at University College, London. Its focus on intellectual property and IT issues is typical of an academic conference, but the irreverent subject matter and rowdy audience mark this out from average scholarly events. Thanks to Lilian, Andres, Ian and the other organisers for a fascinating day. I'm already looking forward to next year's event, which Ian agreed to stage at the Oxford Internet Institute. ORG supporters with a legal interest should take a breeze through the papers, and consider signing up for next year's event when it's announced.

Here's a flavour of the papers i enjoyed most:

  • Faith Lawrence discussed community-standards issues, using LiveJournal as her case study, where the feisty fandom and freedom of speech communities had to battle hard against management's efforts to sanitise user-profiles.

  • Lilian Edwards' and Ian Brown's presentation, 'Cyberstalking 2.0', praised Facebook's sophisticated efforts to offer users privacy, but criticised the default-settings for publicity.

  • Ray Corrigan gave us the fascinating parable of a 6th century IP dispute, complete with mythical warrior-princes and 'The Battle of The Book'. The parallels with today's IP wars are clear - best check his new 'digital rights' book if you want to learn more.

  • Simon Deane-Jones of Zopa treated the audience to a run-through of the dramatic changes 'Web 2.0' and the rise of e-pressure is causing to the political landscape. The vigilantes of political life are well-represented by and, whilst community spirit is reborn with

  • And finally, a doff of the cap to Jordan Hatcher, who stunned the audience with an analysis of the application of copyright law to tattoos.

The list of papers may soon be joined by powerpoint presentations.

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