The ORG Review of 2022

2022 has been a tumultuous year for Digital Rights in the UK. Ebbs in the Political chaos resulted in a flow of unhelpful domestic legislation.

Measures that protect us from Data Discrimination are being eroded as the Government amends UK GDPR Data Protection laws with their Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, aka the Data Discrimination Bill. 

Fear of online harm has reached fever-pitch as Parliament seeks to empower OFCOM with Orwellian powers of censorship over the internet with the encryption breaking ‘Online Safety Bill’.

The hostile environment persists, with Migrants being at the forefront of the UK’s burgeoning surveillance state. Internal data checks and digital barriers exclude people from society. They are pushing more people into an underground economy dominated by criminality, human trafficking, and modern-day slavery.

We also saw a crisis within the surveillance capitalism model of social media, with Meta facing plunging share prices and Twitter going into meltdown. Musk’s takeover surged interest in alternative decentralized models such as Mastodon.

We want a world where neither states nor corporations use digital technology to restrict or remove our human rights; and where technology supports justice, rights, and freedoms to prevail over the narrow interests of the powerful.

So as we work our way through these twelve days of Christmas read on and enjoy our review of 2022.


The Home Office starts the year by blowing half a million on an advertising campaign attacking end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption is relied on by billions of people worldwide to protect their privacy.

 The TV, radio, and newspaper advertising campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, accuses social media companies that use encryption of “blindfolding” the Government. Open Rights Group responds by stating that weakening encryption through Online Safety Bill will only help predators, criminals, blackmailers, and scammers.

Meanwhile, the Government disregards Court’s Immigration Exemption ruling. Following ORGs successful legal challenge, the Government brings in new legislation to tackle the exemption that prevents migrants from accessing their data rights. However, this legislation fails to address the issues raised by the ruling. An issue we seek to address later in the year.


ORG continues to develop its work protecting people from digital discrimination and protecting the digital rights of vulnerable groups. Our Migrant Digital Justice Programme is launched, along with a new newsletter that you can sign up for.

The Online Safety Bill gains additional features such as ‘age-verification’ and a crackdown on anonymous accounts. ORG warns this will mean people have to age-verify before using popular websites like Reddit, Google, or Twitter, which all carry content intended for adults. 

Jim Killock, Executive Director of ORG says: “This proposal would lead to a two-tier Internet, where people who suffer abuse and use anonymity to shield themselves are actively discriminated against. LGBTQ, abuse survivors and many others use anonymity to prevent their identities from being revealed and from suffering real-world consequences. It is deeply disturbing that the people who this Bill seeks to protect will have real protection of anonymity removed from them.”


The War in Ukraine dominates 2022 as a political issue. It also brings to the forefront issues of digital rights. On the front line, encryption issues become critical, with drones, facial recognition, and mobile phone surveillance being weaponized.

Censorship of Russian websites, access to the TOR network, and VPNs all form part of cyber warfare. Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK face having their privacy compromised with bio-metric identity checks and a Home Office mega database that shares their data between Government Departments and Local Authorities.


Mobile and broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have created filters to stop those under 18s from seeing harmful content online. Unfortunately, filters block many harmless websites by mistake – even sites that are aimed at children! Often website owners need to learn that this is happening. Our Blocked campaign is hugely important, with people using it throughout the year to check if their webpage is blocked and to submit reports to ISPs.

The wrongful censorship of websites via ISP content filters is perhaps a precursor of things to come if age-gating content is applied to the UK’s Internet content via the ‘Online Safety Bill’


Open Rights Group raises concerns with the Government over the safety of the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Meg Foulkes, Head of Policy and Litigation at Open Rights Group, said:

 “The Homes for Ukraine scheme is another example of government incompetency or, in the alternative, deliberate disregard for the well-being of vulnerable people fleeing war.

 “The Government left a significant part of the data processing to third parties, including Meta and Palantir. We can have no trust in the ability of these companies to effectively regulate users and/or content. The Government should not have forced refugees to offer up their details to these companies.”


ORG launches its Migrant Digital Justice Toolkit a major piece of work that seeks to empower and equip individuals and organisations seeking to protect the digital rights of migrants. The toolkit was launched as part of Solidarity Knows No Borders Week of Action to End the Hostile Environment with a workshop organised by ORG and attended by a range of groups and organisations from the migrants’ rights sector.

After the Government failed to implement the court ruling on the immigration exemption we team up with the3million to mount a second legal challenge to the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018.


The temperature hit a boiling point in July. ORG sounded ‘Red Alert’ as the Government announced a bonfire of data rights. The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, aka the ‘Data Discrimination Bill’ is published and has its first reading in Parliament.

ORG sets out to explain how the Bill will affect you, with our views being cited in the Parliamentary Research Briefing for the Bill.

  1. Creating a Data Oligarchs Charter
  2. Creating a Digital Surveillance State
  3. Risks to British Businesses and Consumers
  4. The Politicization of the ICO and Ministerial Power-grabs

Meanwhile, the Online Safety Bill gets delayed until September, with ORG urging Government to rethink its dire proposals. 


We move quickly to challenge Sadiq Khan’s plans to use London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to expand Police surveillance powers via Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology (ANPR). This move is the latest in a worrying trend of green tech being used as a trojan horse for expanding mass-surveillance of law-abiding citizens. 


During September, ORG published a series of articles highlighting the devastating impact the Online Safety Bill could have on free speech and content moderation. We set out to explain how the bill ‘puts a spy in your pocket’ through the proposed automatic scanning of encrypted messages.

ORG is also present at Political Party conferences flyering delegates about the ‘Data Discrimination bill’. This leaflet can be downloaded and printed, or you can request copies if you can help us distribute it. On our local groups front, ORG Manchester reforms and has its first meeting. 

Together with the Migrants’ Rights Network and Migrants at Work, we also launched the Challenge the Checks campaign to uncover the negative effects of expecting employers to enforce immigration law in the workplace.


Developing our campaign against the ‘Data Discrimination Bill’ we hold an online briefing. This briefing is available to view on our YouTube channel. We also launch our campaign pack on the Data Discrimination Bill to empower members and supporters to take political action to protect their Digital Rights.

We drew attention to the worrying trend of young people being criminalised for what they post online, and often before a crime has ever taken place. ORG shared a new SAR template to help young people learn more about what data may have collected on them by police agencies.


As the nights grow darker, a crisis emerges in social media. Many of the issues ORG has warned about in terms of the platform power of big tech and the monopolistic approach to social media with its walled gardens start to play out in the Musk Twitter Crisis.

We see a massive surge in people seeking to join alternative decentralized platforms such as Mastodon. 

ORG seeks to support individuals and organizations involved in the mass migration of twitter. We discussed some of the issues arising with groups such as ‘Stop Funding Hate’ and live-streamed a tutorial for UK NGO’s and Politicians seeking to use the platform. 


The year ends with a flurry of activity around the Online Safety Bill. Much of the public debate focuses on the Government dropping ‘legal but harmful’ content from being regulated for adults. However, this measure brings to the forefront issues around how platforms will determine who is or isn’t an adult. Biometric surveillance of users is one option considered by platforms to verify age.

ORG pushes to have the issues around encryption discussed and debated as part of the Bill and publishes a Parliamentary briefing entitled ‘Who is checking on your chats in private online spaces’.

Sadly, the mood in Parliament is for even strong regulation and control, with opposition MPs trying to push the Bill to go further and include measures that would pave the way for regulating Virtual Private Networks.

Over 500 ORG supporters and members take action to write to their MP with their concerns, and we launch our Online Safety Bill Campaign Hub as a one-stop shop for people wishing to learn more about the Bill and take political action around it. 

Looking ahead to 2023

The crisis with big tech social media platforms will continue to fuel discussions around alternative platforms, open protocols, and better models of decentralized social media. While some of these platforms, such as Mastodon, might offer us hope at what the web could become, we also risk models that challenge the surveillance capitalism model by over-regulation of the internet by the Government. 

The trend of nation-states wishing to regulate, control and own their part of a Global Free Internet continues. Here in the UK, that takes the form of the Online Safety Bill -a significant threat to our human rights of freedom of expression and privacy. Born out of the good intentions of protecting children, it fails to grasp the complexity of regulating the internet. It fails to protect our rights to freedom of expression online or our privacy rights and needs to be able to communicate securely and privately. These are universal human rights that children also hold, and ORG will continue to defend the digital rights of everyone. 

We must view this Bill alongside plans to water down our data protection rights that we only recently gained with UK GDPR and wider attacks on our liberties and human rights. The ‘spy clause’ provisions within the bill that seeks to break end-to-end encryption are not unique to the UK either, with several countries that share intelligence all pursuing similar measures simultaneously. 

However, imperfect GDPR did enshrine individual data rights such as the right to object and the right to be forgotten, the rights to access, etc., and it placed limits on global data laundering. Protecting the digital rights of marginalized groups from the effects of Data Discrimination and attacks on our Data Rights will also be a priority moving into 2023. 

During 2023 we will need to be alert to new surveillance technologies, and AIs making discriminatory automated decisions about people’s lives. We also see examples of green technology being used as a trojan horse to expand mass surveillance. Exmaples such as automated numberplate recognition cameras cameras on Ultra Low Emission Zones, or Smart Meter data being harvested by the Government under the name of the Energy Price Guarantee Scheme spring to mind. 

We also have an alarming trend of the Home Office funding pilots of new forms of surveillance and developing new categories of per-crime, such as domestic extremists and protester watch lists, facial recognition, and street gang databases, as seen with Project Alpha.

Finally, creeping digitisation, data sharing and algorithmic decision-making means that data will remain power within the UK immigration system. The scope and scale of the ‘digital hostile environment’ will further extend beyond the border with devastating impacts for migrants. ORG will continue to work alongside our incredible partners to challenge the ‘digital hostile environment’ and ensure that people with lived and professional experience of migration can influence policy around the intersections between immigration, ethical data use and data protection.