Our movement turns 15

In 2005, a dedicated group of grassroots activists created Open Rights Group (ORG) to protect the digital rights of people in the UK. 15 years later, over 20,000 members and supporters form the beating heart of our movement to safeguard digital privacy and free expression online.

Let’s take a brief look back at 2020’s unique challenges and triumphs.

Protecting our privacy during the Covid crisis

When the pandemic arrived, ORG quickly shifted focus to a series of events and actions about Covid-19’s impacts on privacy and democracy, proposals for the NHS tracker app, and the Government’s wider Test and Trace Programme.

In a huge win for privacy, in June the Government scrapped plans to use a centralised model for its tracker app, opting for the far more privacy-conscious decentralised model long advocated by ORG and averting the creation of a massive new database of sensitive medical data. 

ORG also pressed the Scottish Government to commit to strong privacy protections in their own digital Covid-19 response. We applauded the launch of the Protect Scotland App in September which also adopted a privacy-preserving model.

Beyond Brexit: Ensuring our digital rights are not traded away

With the Brexit clock ticking louder and louder, ORG put a spotlight on digital threats posed by incoming international trade agreements. 

ORG activists sent hundreds of letters to MPs demanding that the legal fine print in the new UK-Japan deal not trade away our fundamental rights and liberties. We then launched a petition against the use of privacy as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the UK-US trade deal and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPATPP). ORG also produced a brief explainer video about the UK-US deal and hosted events on the UK’s digital trade dilemma, what a Biden Administration means for UK-US digital trade, and the policies behind the UK-Japan deal and data laundering.

Exposing voter data abuse in politics

Following our groundbreaking work to find out what personal data political parties held on voters during the General Election 2019, ORG presented an extensive report to the Electoral Commission and launched a new public web resource – Who Do They Think You Are? Watch a recording of the report launch and hear testimony from an ORG supporter about how it felt to discover what personal data UK political parties held on him. Our work caused a stir and prompted an audit by the UK’s privacy regulator into how parties handle voter data.

In the run up to the US presidential election, we hosted a special event on data and the integrity of our elections featuring digital rights leaders Shireen Mitchell, Professor David Carroll and Ravi Naik (of the Great Hack fame). 

Ending illegal online advertising

ORG’s fight to end the widespread and systemic abuse of personal data by the advertising industry made major strides in 2020. After the UK privacy regulator inexplicably dropped their investigation into what they conceded were unlawful data collection practices, ORG responded with a legal challenge. Thanks to our members and supporters, we have already raised over £11K to take the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to court to demand rightful enforcement of data protection law.

Meanwhile, ORG was busy behind the scenes laying the groundwork for a pan-European campaign to urge privacy regulators across the continent to crack down on illegal advertising practices.

Making data protection law serve everyone better

In October a groundswell of ORG activists responded to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sports (DCMS) call for views on the Data Protection Act, urging for improvements that would allow privacy organisations like ORG to independently submit data protection complaints.

Immigration, data & technology

In 2020 ORG expanded its support for the immigration sector’s unique data and technology environment by highlighting problems for migrants using contact tracing apps, mapping out digital needs for immigration groups, assessing the Immigration Bill’s potential to expand surveillance, and publishing an open letter with a dozen coalition groups to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports on the impact of the National Data Strategy on migrants. We also continued to champion our legal challenge with the3million to the Data Protection Act’s unjust “immigration exemption”.

With meet ups prohibited, ORG local groups adapt

ORG’s local activist groups across the UK navigated the pandemic by hosting strictly online meet ups. You can view past events on facial recognition technology and surveillance and the right to dignity by ORG Glasgow or digital security lightning talks by ORG Oxford. 2020 also saw the emergence of our newest local group, ORG Stoke-on-Trent.

Improving biometric oversight in Scotland

After years of campaigning for proper oversight of sensitive biometric data, in 2020 ORG celebrated the Scottish Parliament vote to create a Scottish Biometrics Commissioner. The Commissioner will help ensure that biometrics data is underpinned by a lawful framework that respects the fundamental right to privacy.

A new look for a new decade

In May we launched two brand new websites and a new logo for ORG, followed by our annual report in June. If you haven’t already, take our new national and Scotland websites for a spin!

We would like to thank our newest corporate supporters IT Norwich, Driven Coffee Fundraising, Web Hosting Buddy as well as Dotcom-Monitor, BroadbandUK, UNO, GreenNet and VPN Compare for renewing their support.

Last but not least, thanks out to all our members and supporters for standing with us through this trying year.

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