Press releases

Press releases

ORG responds to calls by Theresa May for new communications data bill

Open Rights Group has responded to the Home Secretary, Theresa May's call for a revival of the snoopers' charter to give the police greater powers to access communications data.

Open Rights Group's Executive Director, Jim Killock said:

"We already have GCHQ engaging in illegal mass surveillance justified by the investigation of terrorism. Why exactly does Theresa May need to revive the snoopers' charter which would give the police the same powers to infringe our liberties? We need targeted surveillance not data trawling and population profiling."

"However Cameron and May are at least honest enough to state they are prepared to flout human rights laws. The Labour Party and Lib Dems must now state if they support further unlawful mass surveillance powers so that we can have the national debate that they have called for. Whether we want our government to infringe on our rights to privacy and free speech in the name of national security is now a crucial election issue."

It has also been reported that May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will criticise the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act at the Conservative party conference. Killock added:

"Human rights legislation serves to protect us all. By restricting our liberties the Conservative are threatening the very freedom and democracy that they purport to defend."

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Trade mark case could set a precedent for website blocking

Digital campaigners, the Open Rights Group (ORG), have intervened in a test case about trade mark infringement that is being heard in the High Court of Justice today. 

For the first time ISPs are being asked to block websites on the basis of alleged trade mark (rather than copyright) infringement. Whilst ORG takes no view on the merits of the trade mark claims in the current case, we believe the outcome of this case will have implications for future trade mark blocking applications, which could potentially threaten the legitimate interests of third parties.

Legal Director, Elizabeth Knight said:
 “As the court is being asked to extend the circumstances in which blocking orders are granted, it's vital that the wider public interest is taken into account. We hope that our intervention will help ensure that future claimants cannot use blocking orders to restrict legitimate activity or free speech.”

David Allen Green, lawyer at Preiskel & Co LLP, is acting for ORG pro bono. He said:

“In our adversarial system it is hard for the voices of third parties to be heard by a judge, even when the court will be developing remedies which can affect the legitimate rights of people who are not parties to a particular case.  In this case the High Court has kindly permitted the ORG to intervene so as to make detailed submissions on how this novel jurisdiction should not be abused.”

The case has been brought by luxury brands Cartier International and related companies. They are calling for BSkyB, BT, EE, TalkTalk and VirginMedia to block a number of websites that they claim have been using the brands’ trade marks for counterfeiting activity.

In its submission to the Court, ORG stresses that it is neutral about the details over this particular case. The organisation's concerns are that if the claimants are successful, the ruling could be used as a basis for applications for blocking orders that are contrary to the public interest - for example, if the judgment was used to try and block websites that use trademarks to legitimately criticise or parody well known brands. Court blocking orders may also affect commercial third parties who have no involvement in any alleged infringement - for example law abiding businesses whose products appear on websites alongside those of companies involved in infringing activity. ORG is not opposing the current application, but has submitted to the court a test that should be adopted so that blocking orders are only granted in circumstances where they are proportionate, effective and contain safeguards against abuse. 

ORG is campaigning for more transparency around websites blocked for legal reasons through its Error 451 project. ORG is calling for ISPs to show an error 451 message when material has been blocked by a court order and to provide more information to the public. 


The case will be heard by Mr Justice Arnold at the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division. ORG's submissions were written by David Allen Green with the assistance of Elizabeth Knight and Greg Callus. 

David Allen Green has given a more detailed account of the issues at stake on our blog.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact: Pam Cowburn, 07749785932,

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Threat of legal action not terrorism behind calls for emergency data retention legislation

Open Rights Group (ORG) has responded to government calls for emergency legislation that would require ISPs and telecoms companies to keep records of our phone calls, texts and internet usage as 'spin'.  The digital rights organisation believes that it is the threat of legal action from organisations like ORG, not the threat of terrorism, that are behind the calls for legislation.

Executive Director, Jim Killock, said:

“The government is tacitly admitting that our current data retention laws are illegal and that they are required to re-legislate. The European Court has ruled that data retention should be limited and blanket retention cannot be justified because it interferes with our right to privacy. However Theresa May actually wants to increase the amount of communications data that is kept about us.”

In April, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) struck down the Data Retention Directive because it breached our rights to privacy and protection of personal data. Since then, ORG has written to the government to ask them to stop trying to enforce EU data retention laws that are no longer valid. In addition, over 1,500 Open Rights Group supporters have contacted their ISPs asking them to stop retaining their data.

ORG is calling for any new legislation to include the guidance issued by the CJEU (below), in particular to recognise that blanket retention cannot be justified because it interferes with our right to privacy and should therefore be limited.

The CJEU ruling means there is likely no legal basis for the continuing retention of data by ISPs. Most experts believe that the Data Retention Regulations 2009, which oblige ISPs to keep these records, are now invalid.

The CJEU judgement defined the following limits to data retention under human rights law. They said that legislation must:

- provide exceptions for people whose communications must be confidential for legal reasons

- restrict retention to data that is related to a threat to public security and in particular restrict retention to a particular time period, geographical area and / or set of individuals likely to be involved in a serious crime or persons whose data would contribute to the prevention or prosecution of crime

- restrict access to defined, sufficiently serious crimes

- limit access to that which is strictly necessary

- empower an independent administrative or judicial body to make decisions about access to the data on the basis of need

- distinguish between the usefulness of different kinds of data and relate retention periods to that question

- keep retention periods as low as possible, i.e. to periods that are ‘strictly necessary'

- ensure the data is kept securely

- ensure destruction of the data when it is no longer needed

- ensure the data is kept within the EU.

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ORG's Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 sites are blocked by filters

  • Open Rights Group Blocked project finds almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked by web filters

  • High level of variation between ISPs suggest filters are not consistent in protecting children

  • Overblocking is affecting bloggers, businesses and web users

A Porsche broker, a political blogger and a mum hoping to read an article about post pregnancy care are among those that have been affected by filters designed to protect young people from adult content.

The extent of overblocking has been revealed by Open Rights Group Blocked project, which is documenting the impact of filters. Web users can use a free checking tool on where they can instantly check to see if a website has been blocked by filters. So far Open Rights Group has tested over 100,000 sites and found that over 19,000 are blocked by one ISP or another.

Executive Director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock said: “Through, the Blocked project we wanted to find out about the impact of web filters. Already, our reports are showing that almost 1 in 5 websites tested are blocked, and that the problem of overblocking seems much bigger than we thought. Different ISPs are blocking different sites and the result is that many people, from businesses to bloggers, are being affected because people can’t access their websites."

One of the blocked sites is the political blog, Guido Fawkes whose Editor Paul Staines said:

"We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them and the Chinese government."

ISPs have been criticised for the lack of information about how to get sites unblocked. Mum-of-one Marielle, said she was “humiliated" when she visited the Three store to find out how she could order to access an article about post-partum care on her phone: “The manager told me that I couldn’t access filtered articles without entering a 4 digit pin every time I wanted to read a filtered article because I had a PAYG plan.” Marielle submitted a report to Three saying that the article had been incorrectly blocked but didn’t get a response.

Other sites that have been incorrectly blocked by filters include: - this feminist rights blog was blocked by TalkTalk in April 2014. Editor-in-Chief says that as advertising revenue is generated by the number of site visitors, being blocked, ‘directly impacts our bottom line. But, more than that, we are concerned with the message that blocking our site sends: that pro-woman, pro-equality, pro-human rights subject matter is somehow offensive, inappropriate or otherwise problematic.’ - Philip Raby, who sells and services Porsches, only found out that his website was blocked by O2 when one of his customers told him. Philip says that it’s difficult to measure the financial impact of being blocked but, 'we must have lost some business and, of course, it doesn't look great telling people the site is not suitable for under 18s!’

About the project

Blocked is funded by Open Rights Group’s supporters and also sponsored by Bytemark and Andrews & Arnold Ltd

Technical volunteers built the tools that allow users to check urls. We have deployed a number of probes on both mobile and fixed-line ISPs. These probes test whether a particular URL is blocked on the networks to which they are connected.

Some ISPs offer different levels of filters. To find out more about the levels tested, go to our FAQs

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Customers demand action from ISPs over data retention

As a result of an Open Rights Group campaign,  over 1300 customers have written to their internet service providers (ISPs) to ask why they are still retaining their web, email, SMS and phone data. This is despite the European Court of Justice striking down the Data Retention Directive in April because it breached our rights to privacy and protection of personal data. The ruling means there is likely no legal basis for the continuing retention of data. Most experts believe that the Data Retention Regulations 2009, which oblige ISPs to keep these records, are now invalid.  

Open Rights Group’s Legal Director Elizabeth Knight said:

‘The Government needs to give a full explanation of the grounds on which it is advising ISPs to continue to retain data. The response to Open Rights Group’s campaign shows that customers also want answers. It’s time that ISPs seek clarity from the courts instead of blindly following the Government’s advice.'

Open Rights Group is looking into the possibility of taking legal action against the Government if it continues to implement data retention. 

In the view of Open Rights Group, the UK Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 are 'ultra vires', meaning they are, and have always been, outside the Government's powers. The Data Retention Regulations were made under the European Communities Act 1972. As a result, the Government enjoyed the power to make the Regulations only because they were made pursuant to an EU Directive. When the European Court of Justice declared the Data Retention Directive invalid for breaching fundamental rights, the decision had retrospective effect. This means the Data Retention Directive was never valid. As a result the Government did not have the power to make the Data Retention Regulations in the first place. 

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Stephen Fry calls spying on citizens ‘squalid and rancid’ at Don’t Spy on Us Day of Action in London

The performer Stephen Fry condemned the government’s failure to act over the Snowden revelations at the start of the Don’t Spy on Us Day of Action in London today.

In a pre-recorded video, Fry said that using the fear of terrorism, "is a duplicitous and deeply wrong means of excusing something as base as spying on the citizens of your own country”.

Marking the anniversary of the start of the Snowden revelations, the Day of Action is the biggest privacy event of 2014, with over 500 people attending the conference at Shoreditch Town Hall.  Speaking at the event are high profile experts in technology, security and human rights, from all over the world. They include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who said: "The tide is beginning to turn as the public comes to understand just how broken the surveillance state is.”

Author and co-founder of the Open Rights Group, Cory Doctorow said: “Freedom from surveillance is essential to freedom itself. The freedom to think, to speak and to have discourse without fear of reprisal or judgement is at the core of democracy itself.”

Security technologist and author, Bruce Schneier said: “We have to choose between surveillance or security: an internet that is vulnerable to all attackers or an internet that is secure for all users. In our interconnected world, security is more important.

The day of action was organised by the Don’t Spy on Us Campaign, a coalition of privacy, free expression and digital rights organisations, that is calling for the government to put an end to mass surveillance by GCHQ.

Don’t Spy on Us is calling for:

  • an inquiry to report before the next general election to investigate the extent to which the law has failed

  • new legislation that will make the security agencies accountable to our elected representatives.

  • judges not the Home Secretary to decide when spying is justified

  • an end to mass surveillance in line with our 6 principles (No surveillance without suspicion, Transparent laws not secret laws, Judicial not political authorisation, Effective democratic oversight, The right to redress, A secure web for all).

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19:

“All of us have a right to free expression and a right to privacy, but these are violated by arbitrary mass surveillance programmes that assume guilt over innocence. If the UK, which prides itself on being an open and democratic nation, continues to carry out mass surveillance on this scale, it gives carte blanche to oppressive regimes to keep spying on their citizens, restricting the space for free expression.”

Emma Carr, acting director of Big Brother Watch:

“On the first anniversary of the spying revelations, we call on the Government to publicly recognise that the UK’s surveillance law urgently needs reviewing and that the oversight mechanisms need strengthening. Without affirmative action the Government will certainly find that the general public’s faith in politicians to properly monitor how the security agencies are using surveillance powers will diminish. The law is out of date, the oversight is weak and the reporting of what happens is patchy at best. The public is right to expect better and it is high time that the Government stops burying its head in the sand and accept that the current status quo must change.”

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN:

"The protection of the right to a private life is crucial for freedom of expression.  None of us can freely exchange or record information and ideas without the expectation of privacy.  Its been a year since we found out that GCHQ has been engaging in blanket, unwarranted surveillance and our politicians have conspicuously failed to address our concerns or to protect our rights.  They need to act now."

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty:

“The game is up and the authorities busted on blanket surveillance pursued without democratic debate let alone legal authority. Now those in power need to know that we care. Events like ‘Don’t Spy On Us’ are an important part of demonstrating that fundamental breaches of trust have consequences.”

Jim Killock, Open Rights Group:

"We’ve had a year of inaction, delay and obfuscation from the  government. They can’t avoid answering these questions forever. They’re undermining everyone’s confidence in the security services, parliament and the technologies we use everyday."

Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International:

Secret surveillance is an anathema to a democratic society, as no real debate can take place without an informed public. The Snowden documents have been critical in sparking this debate, and we must now advocate for laws that make the State’s actions transparent, subject to independent authorisation and effective oversight, and outline clear legal frameworks in accordance with democratic principles.

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European day of action: Citizens call on MEPs to protect digital rights


Today, a coalition of 36 civil rights organisations invites European citizens to take part in a day of action to make sure that the next European Parliament defends digital civil and human rights. Through, people can pledge to vote for candidates who have signed up to protect digital rights.

Ed Paton-Williams, Campaigner at Open Rights Group said:

'In recent months, we've seen the European Parliament vote on issues such as data protection, net neutrality and surveillance, all of which have a big impact on our privacy and free speech online. We need to make sure that the MEPs we vote for will understand, promote and defend our online rights.


The idea of the is simple: Candidates promise to support a Charter of ten digital rights principles. Citizens promise to vote for candidates who have, by election day, signed the Charter. The campaign was initiated by European Digital Rights (EDRi), a network of 36 civil rights organisations run in cooperation with international activist group GoVeto. Over 330 candidates for the European Parliament from 24 Member States have already signed the Charter, including 32 from the UK.

London MEPs face questions on digital rights

As part of the action day, Open Rights Group will tonight host a Q&A session with MEP candidates Claude Moraes (Labour), Sarah Ludford (Liberal), Danny Bates (Green) and Paul Oakley (UKIP). Chaired by writer and journalist Glyn Moody, the debate will give voters the opportunity to question the candidates on how they will work for our online rights. The event will take place at Shoreditch Village Hall, from 6.30pm.

To attend tonight's event or for more information about, please email


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Over 300,000 people sign petitions saying no to tax data sell off

Open Rights Group, 38 Degrees and SumofUs handed in petitions to HMRC today, calling for an end to plans to sell access to taxpayers' personal data. The campaign groups were also joined by Liberal Democrat MP, Julian Huppert who said HMRC proposals, 'could seriously undermine the confidentiality we expect’.

Over 300,000 people have signed the petitions since it was revealed last month that HMRC was considering sharing anonymised tax data with third parties including companies, researchers and public bodies. The news followed the suspension of the Government's project, which was delayed because of concerns about privacy breaches.

The campaign groups are concerned that as citizens are compelled to give HMRC personal information, it is very difficult to give or withdraw consent about what happens to their data. HMRC has statutory limitations on data sharing that go beyond normal data protection laws. The suggested proposals would weaken these limitations, giving HMRC new data sharing powers that could potentially undermine taxpayer confidentiality. 

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge said:

'Personal data can be very revealing, showing off a huge amount about who we are and what we do. HMRC should rethink their plans to sell this data off to private companies. People don’t have choice when it comes to sharing personal data with the tax office but they should be able to refuse to have it shared with other companies or public bodies. HMRC's proposals could seriously undermine the confidentiality we expect.'

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

''The government may claim that it will be anonymous but it’s impossible to guarantee that data won’t be re-identifiable. We have a right to know how the government is going to use our data and who it wants to share it with.’

Susannah Compton, Campaigner, 38 Degrees said:

'Over a quarter of a million 38 Degrees members have now spoken out against these plans - and still there is no sign of a rethink or a proper consultation from HMRC. We hope that HMRC will listen, engage and reconsider.’

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ECJ Google Spain ruling raises concerns for online free speech

Open Rights Group believes that today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice could pose a threat to free speech online. The Court ruled that an internet search provider 'is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties’.

Javier Ruiz, Policy Director at Open Rights Group said:

"We need to take into account individuals' right to privacy but this ruling raises significant concerns. If search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate public content, it could lead to online censorship. This case has major implications for all kind of internet intermediaries, not just search engines."

Today’s ruling goes against the opinion given by Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen last June when he said that Google should not be responsible for content published by third parties.

For more information, please email

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Is iPod tax on cards as government delays right to copy your music?

Open Rights Group is concerned that the government is considering an 'iPod tax', as proposed copyright exceptions for personal copying were delayed yesterday.

The  Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) approved three of five Statutory Instruments (SI) relating to copyright law but is still considering a further two: exceptions for parody and for personal copying (also known as format shifting).

Open Rights Group is concerned that groups representing rightsholders are seeking compensation for consumers potentially copying music they have bought onto different devices, for example from a CD to their iPod. Last year, UK Music, which represents the live music sector, said that “the exception cannot lawfully be made without fair compensation”. (1)

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said,

“It has taken nine years and two separate reviews to get our copyright close to being fit-for purpose in the digital age. It is extremely worrying that at this stage, exceptions for personal copying and parody are being delayed. We believe that the government is under intense pressure to introduce an 'iPod tax' that would push up prices for consumers.”

When similar legislation was introduced in Spain, it resulted in levies of being applied to a range of devices that could copy content. The levies ranged from € 3.40 for CD and DVD recorders to €227 for some photocopiers. The Spanish law was killed in 2011 after 3 million people signed a petition opposing it. 

In a letter to Open Rights Group dated Apr 2 2014, Viscount Younger of Leckie said:

“The parallel provision to allow some personal copying recognises that copyright should not unduly restrict private actions where they cause no harm to the Rerights holder, especially when those actions are widely considered acceptable, and enhance the enjoyment and demand for creative works.”

Open Rights Group is urging the government to stand by these words and approve the Statutory Instrument for the exception as it stands.

For more information, please email:




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