Press releases

Press releases


November 29, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Investigatory Powers Act is UK's most extreme surveillance law

Digital rights campaigners, Open Rights Group has responded to the announcement that the Investigatory Powers Bill has received royal assent.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Amber Rudd says the Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation. She is right, it is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. Its impact will be felt beyond the UK as other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance regimes.

“Although there are some improvements to oversight, the Bill will mean the police and intelligence agencies have unprecedented powers to surveil our private communications and Internet activity, whether or not we are suspected of a crime.”

“Theresa May has finally got her snoopers’ charter and democracy in the UK is the worse for it.”

In recent weeks 130,000 people have signed a parliament petition calling for the Bill’s repeal which means parliament must consider debating it again.

A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, expected next year, may mean that parts of the Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended.

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Read more]


November 29, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

MPs vote for a national censor

MPs have voted to allow a new regulator - expected to be the BBFC - to censor legal porn websites.

Amendments to the Digital Economy Bill were accepted by MPs during its third reading yesterday. This will mean that the the BBFC in its new role can instruct Internet Service Providers to block access to porn websites that don’t verify the age of their users, even though their content is legal in the UK.

In addition, sites that are not sanctioned must obey the regulator’s instructions and censor what is deemed unacceptable. The BBFC has indicated that:

  • Porn websites must censor ‘non-conventional sex acts’ that are unclassified in the UK. This could include whipping that causes marks, female ejaculation, acts involving urination and sex during menstruation.

  • Sites that do not censor according to the BBFC’s instructions could be sanctioned and blocked.


Executive Director, Jim Killock said:

“If the Digital Economy Bill is passed, the BBFC will have the power to instruct ISPs to block thousands of websites. This is unprecedented in the UK and the developed world.

“In the short term, this is likely to disproportionately affect sexual minorities. However, there are wider implications for free speech. Once this administrative power to block websites is in place, it will invariably be used to censor other content. MPs have already asked why other material that is unsuitable for children is not being censored.”

In addition, the proposals to demand that pornographic websites use age verification technology still have no privacy safeguards. Labour tabled an amendment outlining privacy duties for the regulator, but this was not adopted. The Government did not table any alternative privacy amendments.

Killock added: “Websites could choose age verification tools that cause risk data leaks, tracking and even encourage credit card fraud unless the government place privacy standards into the bill. “This is incredibly irresponsible.”

More than 11,000 people have signed an Open Rights Group petition calling for parliament to reject these plans.

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org

[Read more]


November 27, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Petition means that parliament must consider IP Bill debate

Over 110,000 people have signed a parliament UK petition calling for the repeal of the Investigatory Powers Bill. This means that it will be considered for a debate by parliament.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“The IP Bill was debated and passed while the public, media and politicians were preoccupied by Brexit. Now that the Bill has passed, there is renewed concern about the extent of the powers that will be given to the police and security agencies.

"In particular, people appear to be worried about new powers that mean our web browsing activity can be collected by Internet Service Providers and viewed by the police and a whole range of government departments.

"Parliament may choose to ignore calls for a debate but this could undermine public confidence in these intrusive powers.

"A debate would also be an opportunity for MPs to discuss the implications of various court actions, which are likely to mean that the law will have to be amended. ”

Legal challenges to the IP Bill

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is due to clarify its rulings on data retention in a case brought by Labour MP Tom Watson, which ORG intervened in. The CJEU’s judgment could mean that parts of the IP Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended. This could mean further restrictions around the data that is collected, how it can be used, and how it is accessed.

ORG is also one of a number of organisations who have brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the UK’s surveillance regime breaches our right to privacy.

Notes to Editors

The IP Bill has been passed by MPs and peers and is awaiting royal assent, which is expected to take place before the end of 2016.

The IP Bill will mean that:

  • Internet Service Providers could be obliged to store their customers’ web browsing history for a year. The police and government departments will have unprecedented powers to access this data through a search engine that could be used for profiling.
  • The security services will continue to have powers to collect communications data in bulk.
  • The police and security services will have new hacking powers.
  • The security services can access and analyse public and private databases, even though the majority of data will be held about people who are not suspected of any crimes.

The IP Bill petition is here

 

 

[Read more]


November 25, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Know your rights when it comes to e-receipts on Black Friday

Open Rights Group is warning shoppers not to accidentally sign up for spam if they are offered e-receipts when shopping this Christmas.

As well as encouraging shoppers to assert their legal rights, ORG is calling on shops to make sure they are not breaking the UK’s data protection laws. Many shops are asking for customers’ email addresses without always explaining how they will be used. Although some customers may find it more convenient to get a receipt by email, they should be told if their email address will be used for marketing purposes.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“E-receipts shouldn’t mean that we have to give away our data. Shops need to be clear about how they are going to use customers’ email addresses they collect at the point of sale. Customers should always be given the option to say no to getting marketing emails even if they choose to get an e-receipt.

"If shops fail to ask permission to send marketing emails, we would urge their customers to report them to the ICO. No one wants to end up with spam for Christmas.”

Some of the shops that offer e-receipts include Apple, Argos, Debenhams, Halfords, Topshop and Next.  E-receipts as an opportunity for shops to build their e-mail lists and to get insights into individuals through their purchases.

The law states that customers need to be given 'a simple means of refusing' any future direct marketing emails at the point of sale.

The Information Commissioner has also clarified that, “Whenever customer information is collected there must be a clear explanation given of how their information will be used.” 

For more information, read our blog or email press@openrightsgroup.org.

[Read more]


November 24, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Government departments could share personal health and financial data with energy companies

 

Proposals in the Digital Economy Bill could see private energy companies being given personal data, including information about UK citizens’ health, housing and finances.

The Bill aims to make it easier for low income households to get discounts on their energy bills. To do this, it has been proposed that energy companies should be automatically notified if customers are entitled to discounts.

Previously the Government has claimed that this would not involve the sharing of personal data with energy companies. However, as energy companies all have different criteria for who is eligible for a discount, this might not be easy to achieve. The proposals as outlined in the Digital Economy Bill do not rule out the automatic sharing of raw data. This would include data about households who are not even entitled to a discount.

Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said:

“Previously the Government has said that it won't hand over our data to energy companies but the wording of the Digital Economy Bill tells a different story.

“Energy companies only need to know that a customer is entitled to a discount; it’s not necessary for them to know what they earn, how many children they have or whether they have a long-term health condition.

“Under the current proposals in the Digital Economy Bill, we could see the wholesale transfer of personal information from government departments to energy companies.

“The Government can’t automatically share our data just because their system for determining who gets help is a mess. ”


Open Rights Group is calling on the Government to:

  • Put in place consistent criteria for working out who is entitled to discounts on their energy Bills
  • Amend the Digital Economy Bill so that it is clear that the only data shared with energy companies is whether someone is entitled to a discount.

For more information, read ORG’s blog on the issue or contact press@openrightsgroup.org

[Read more]


November 17, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

The Investigatory Powers Bill's impact will reach beyond the UK

The Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) has been passed by the House of Lords and is expected to become law within the next few weeks.

Executive Director Jim Killock responded:

“The passing of the IP Bill will have an impact that goes beyond the UK's shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.

“The IP Bill will put into statute the powers and capabilities revealed by Snowden as well as increasing surveillance by the police and other government departments. There will continue to be a lack of privacy protections for international data sharing arrangements with the US. Parliament has also failed to address the implications of the technical integration of GCHQ and the NSA.

“While parliamentarians have failed to limit these powers, the Courts may succeed. A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, expected next year, may mean that parts of the Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended. 

"ORG and others will continue to fight this draconian law.”

About the IP Bill
In the wake of the Snowden revelations, three separate inquiries called for new surveillance laws in the UK. It was recognised that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) had failed to limit surveillance and allowed the creation of surveillance programmes without parliamentary debate or assent. In response, the Government published the draft IP Bill in November 2015.

The IP Bill is a vast piece of legislation that will extend not limit surveillance in the UK. It will mean that:

  • Internet Service Providers could be obliged to store their customers’ web browsing history for a year. The police and government departments will have unprecedented powers to access this data through a search engine that could be used for profiling.
  • The security services will continue to have powers to collect communications data in bulk.
  • The police and security services will have new hacking powers.
  • The security services can access and analyse public and private databases, even though the majority of data will be held about people who are not suspected of any crimes.

For more information about the Bill and what it means, visit ORG's campaign hub.

 

[Read more]


November 09, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Open Rights Group responds to US election results

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“The US election has massive implications for the British public as both countries’ intelligence agencies are so closely integrated. The Snowden leaks showed us how GCHQ carries out work for the NSA and how the latter’s operatives can access GCHQ surveillance programmes.

“The integration of the NSA and GCHQ puts into question the UK’s ability to have proper oversight of the surveillance of its citizens. The UK is dependent on US technology and data to such an extent that it is unlikely that we could separate our intelligence capabilities even if we wanted to.

“Whilst the ‘special relationship’ has always been perceived to be in the UK’s interests, our politicians need to consider its implications in the age of bulk data collection and surveillance.”

Notes to Editors
Open Rights Group’s report Collect it all: GCHQ and mass surveillance outlines how GCHQ and the NSA are integrated. See in particular sections 5.3 and 9.9.

[Read more]


November 03, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

MPs propose web blocking for porn sites

A group of MPs have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would allow pornography websites to be blocked by Internet Service Providers if they fail to verify the age of their users.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Perhaps these MPs have realised that plans to make all adult websites apply age verification are unworkable as foreign porn sites may simply not comply. They are now suggesting that websites who don't comply should be blocked – even though their content is perfectly legal.

“While child protection is important, this proposal is disproportionate. Censorship of this kind should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.

“We are talking about potentially thousands of websites with legal material being censored, something that is unprecedented in the developed world.”

The Digital Economy Bill has proposed that all pornography websites should be forced to verify the age of their users. This has sparked concerns that the privacy of adults could be violated. It is not yet clear how age verification will be implemented but it could lead to the collection of data on everyone who visits a porn website. This kind of information could be vulnerable to ‘Ashley Madison’ style data breaches.

This is the second time such amendments have been suggested. ORG has written about this previously here

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org

Notes to Editors

The proposed amendments can be found here

 

[Read more]


November 02, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Facebook is right to stop Admiral insurance from using its data

Open Rights Group supports Facebook's decision to prevent the Admiral insurance company from using its data to inform car insurance quotes for young people.

Executive Director Jim Killock said “We need to think about the wider consequences of allowing companies to make decisions that affect us financially or otherwise, based on what we have said on social media.

“Such intrusive practices could see decisions being made against certain groups based on biases about race, gender, religion or sexuality – or because their posts in some way mark them as unconventional. Ultimately, this could change how people use social media, encouraging self-censorship in anticipation of future decisions.

“Young people may feel pushed into such schemes because of financial constraints. The right to keep things private shouldn't be the preserve of those who can afford it.”

According to Admiral’s press release: “The technology uses social data personality assessments, matched to real claims data, to better understand first time drivers and more accurately predict risk.”

However, this has been found to be in breach of Facebook's Platform Policy section 3.15, which states:

"Don’t use data obtained from Facebook to make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan."

Contact press@openrightsgroup.org for more information.

Please note that this press release has been updated. We originally believed that Facebook had disabled the app but they have since issued a statement that it will be used for login and verification. Facebook's statement is as follows:

“Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us. We have clear guidelines that prevent information being obtained from Facebook from being used to make decisions about eligibility.
 
We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility. Facebook accounts will only be used for login and verification purposes.
 
Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility.”

 

[Read more]


November 01, 2016 | Pam Cowburn

Investigatory Powers Bill threatens the British public's right to privacy

The Investigatory Powers Bill is one step closer to becoming law after it was passed by the House of Lords yesterday.

Open Rights Group’s Executive Director, Jim Killock, responded:

“The UK is one step closer to having one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy.

Despite attempts by the Lib Dems and Greens to restrain these draconian powers, the Bill is still a threat to the British public’s right to privacy.”

The IP Bill is a comprehensive surveillance law that was drafted after three inquiries highlighted flaws in existing legislation. However, the new Bill fails to restrain mass surveillance by the police and security services and even extends their powers. Once passed, Internet Service Providers could be obliged to store their customers’ web browsing history for a year. The police and government departments will have unprecedented powers to access this data through a search engine that could be used for profiling. The Bill will also allow the security services to continue to collect communications data in bulk and could see Internet security weakened by allowing mass hacking.

ORG’s concerns are outlined here.

The IP Bill will now return to the House of Commons for a final vote.

[Read more]