Press releases

Press releases


UK falls two places in World Press Freedom Index

The UK has fallen two rankings on the World Press Freedom Index. It is now 40th on a list of 180 countries ranked by how much they respect press freedom.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Extensive surveillance powers are threatening investigative journalism and freedom of expression in the UK. In just four years, the UK has fallen ten places in the World Press Freedom Index, a deeply worrying trend that needs to be addressed.

“The Government failed to protect journalists when it passed the Investigatory Powers Act. Now, the Law Commission has proposed to send them to prison if they so much as handle official data. This comes at a time when we must be able to hold the Government to account over its vast surveillance powers.”

“Mass surveillance chills freedom of expression and undermines democracy.”

About the World Press Freedom Index

The World Press Freedom Index is published each year by Reporters Without Borders. According to RSF's website: "The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country."

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org

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Government must respond to CJEU ruling on surveillance

Open Rights Group has responded to the publication of operational cases for the extensive surveillance powers laid out in the Investigatory Powers Act.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“The government still hasn’t stated how it will respond to a CJEU ruling, which calls into question the legal basis for the current data retention regime.

“The CJEU said that blanket data retention was not permissible and should only be used for serious crime. It also said that there needed to be independent authorisation for access to communications data.

“The Government has yet to respond publicly to this ruling. It’s vital that the Government clarifies its position before the election.”

ORG will deliver a letter, signed by over 1,200 ORG supporters, to the Secretary of State and Shadow Ministers on Monday, urging the Government to present its plans before the election.  

The CJEU judgment relates to a case brought by Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson MP, over intrusive data retention powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). Open Rights Group intervened in the case together with Privacy International, arguing that DRIPA, which was rushed through parliament in 2014, was incompatible with EU law. While the judgment will no longer affect DRIPA, which expired at the end of 2016, it has major implications for the Investigatory Powers Act.

In March, it appeared that the Government has accepted part of the CJEU ruling, after ORG noticed a tender on the UK Government Digital Marketplace, which called for businesses to help develop a new “independent communications data authorising body.

However, the Government has still not made a public statement about how it will respond to the judgment. 

The updated cases for operational powers are here.

For more information, email press@openrightsgroup.org

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Campaigners call for transparency over Home Office meetings with tech companies

Civil liberty organisations have written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd in advance of her meeting with tech companies on Thursday, March 30th.

Rudd has asked for a meeting to discuss ways that companies can help the Government combat terrorism. It comes in the wake of Rudd’s comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr about encryption and her desire to talk to people “who understand the necessary hashtags” in order to prevent extremist content from being posted online.

The campaigners are calling for:

• Transparency about any meetings and agreements made between the Government and tech companies 

• Evidence-based policies that do not jeopardise the personal security of UK citizens 

• Input from the civil society, human rights and legal organisations to ensure that the privacy, and free speech rights of citizens are protected


Encryption
Encryption is vital for ensuring that citizens can communicate, shop and bank online safely. Weakening encryption technologies would put UK citizens at greater risk of cyber crime.

The Investigatory Powers Act gives the Government the power to compel companies to reengineer their products and services if it is reasonable and technically possible. This means that the government can secretly order companies to remove encryption.

Online content
The Government wants companies to take down online extremist content that they believe radicalises individuals to carry out acts terrorism. Transparency and judicial oversight should be required for government takedown requests.

The full letter is available here.

Quotes from signatories

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group:

“Rudd’s comments to Marr show a worrying lack of understanding about how encryption keeps us all safe. She clearly needs to talk to experts but this should be done openly and transparently. Secret deals between governments and companies have no place in a democracy.”

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders:
"Amber Rudd's comments on encryption are yet another example of this government sacrificing freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights in the name of security, and contribute to a very worrying trend of increasing attacks on press freedom in the UK in recent months. The ability to communicate securely is essential for investigative journalists, their sources, and whistleblowers. Eliminating encryption tools likes WhatsApp would have a broad chilling effect, and would serve as another damaging blow to investigative journalism in the UK."

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

"Encryption capabilities are fundamental to allow us to communicate freely and safely in an open and democratic society. Any discussions of a framework through which the security services can access our communications must be transparent. Knee-jerk political statements and rushed through deals are at best unhelpful at protecting our civil liberties and at worst a dangerous threat to them. The government risks eroding our freedoms at a time when it is alluding to a desire to protect them."

Contact press@openrightsgroup.org

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Home Office breaching Cabinet Office guidelines over surveillance consultation argue campaigners

A group of lawyers, civil liberty groups and trade unions have written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ask her to re-run her consultation into new Codes of Practice required under the Investigatory Powers Act.

The codes include over 400 pages of legal text, outlining how the powers in the IPA will be put into practice. However, the Home Office has allowed respondents just six weeks to give feedback.

The Cabinet Office’s guidelines say that consultations should “Give enough information to ensure that those consulted understand the issues and can give informed responses.” However, the consultation includes just fifteen paragraphs to explain the content of the five documents.

The letter’s signatories are calling for the Cabinet Office to publish more detailed information about the codes, including the changes made since Parliament saw them, followed by a full three months for consultation and to arrange briefings with lawyers, civil society and other interested groups.

The Home Office has been compelled to publish the Codes of Practices after the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that documents about the use of surveillance must be made public.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

“Amber Rudd wants to be trusted with even more powers to remove security at WhatsApp, yet she is running the flimsiest possible consultation process for her existing powers, designed to stop people from understanding whatever she is proposing.

“She has also failed to explain to Parliament in what way she has changed the Codes from the drafts she showed Parliament. The changes we have detected include watering down strict obligations given to the agencies to more general guidance, by changing words like ‘must’ to ‘may’.”

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19 said:

"The so-called consultation process on these Codes of Practice raises damning questions about the government's approach to democratic participation and open and transparent processes. The Home Office has made it near impossible for any meaningful scrutiny, despite their complexity. A rushed-through consultation is no consultation at all. The Home Office must take immediate steps to ensure a consultation process that lives up to its name and supports the meaningful participation of civil society.”

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director of Reporters Without Borders said:

"We remain extremely worried by the implications of the Investigatory Powers Act for investigative journalism in the UK. The Home Office's approach to the consultation on the proposed codes of practice presents further cause for concern. Civil society must be given the chance to meaningfully engage on these proposals, in the interest of transparency and accountability."

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org

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ORG responds to Amber Rudd's comments on WhatsApp and encrypted communications

Open Rights Group has responded to comments by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP about the need for the police to be able to access encrypted messages.

Rudd made the comments on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme.

Executive Director Jim Killock said: 

"It is right that technology companies should help the police and intelligence agencies with investigations into specific crimes or terrorist activity, where possible. This help should be requested through warrants and the process should be properly regulated and monitored.

"However, compelling companies to put backdoors into encrypted services would make millions of ordinary people less secure online. We all rely on encryption to protect our ability to communicate, shop and bank safely."

For more information, contact: press@openrightsgroup.org

 

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Home Office tender suggests Government has accepted CJEU ruling on independent authorisation for retained data

The Home Office appears to have acknowledged that it will have to make changes to its surveillance capabilities by posting a tender on the UK Government Digital Marketplace, which calls on businesses to help develop a new “independent communications data authorising body”.

The invitation acknowledges a 2016 judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU or ECJ), stating that:

“The ECJ has recently upheld an appeal which challenges the current UK communications data retention and acquisition regime.”

The judgment set criteria for data retention in national law, requiring independent authorisation. The judgment also stated that blanket data retention is not permissible, and that those whose data had been accessed should be notified.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“The Government is still silent on what it expects to do after the CJEU ruling explained that limits must be placed on the retention of our phone and email records.

“The government now needs to explain what changes it proposes. The Home Office must be fairly clear about what it thinks it needs to do, as it is busy lining up IT firms to move authorisation from the police to a new independent body.

“This change would be welcome, but we would expect this to be a matter for Parliament to hear about first, rather than IT contractors.

“Perhaps the government is embarrassed about admitting its years of errors in allowing internal police sign off for people’s phone and email records, however, MPs and the public need to hear exactly what is proposed and why it is needed.”

The CJEU set several criteria for access to communications data data: independent authorisation, circumscribed to serious crime, notification to those affected and restrictions on data being sent outside the EU.

The CJEU also said that there should be notifications to people whose data has been accessed after an investigation is completed.

More fundamentally, the court set out that blanket generalised data retention is unlawful, and should be targeted, possibly to particular time periods, geographical areas or groups likely to be involved in serious crime. The Government must explain how it plans to ensure that UK legislation meets all of these criteria.

Notes to Editors

More information about the CJEU ruling is available here:

https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2017/01/16/thomas-raine-the-cjeu-and-data-retention-a-critical-take-on-the-watson-case/

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=186492&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=311633

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2016-12/cp160145en.pdf

The Home Office tender is available here:

https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/digital-outcomes-and-specialists/opportunities/2169

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Scottish Government drops controversial ID database proposals

Open Rights Group welcomes the Scottish Government’s decision to drop proposals that would have paved the way for a national ID register in Scotland.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

"We are delighted that the Scottish Government has listened to the concerns of Open Rights Group and our supporters. If these plans had gone ahead, Scotland would have introduced a national ID database that would have tracked Scottish citizens through the public services they use. This would have fundamentally changed the relationship between Scottish citizens and the state. 

“We are very keen to work with the Scottish Government on any future plans to allow Scottish citizens to make accessing services online easier. Privacy must be at the heart of such a system.

“The Scottish Entitlement Card scheme which also links people’s behaviour through the UCRN remains in place and both should be included in the future review.“

The 2015 consultation

The Scottish Government announced the original plans in a consultation that took place in early 2015. The proposal was to use the NHS Central Register to verify personal details as people started to use “myaccount” online government services, and to tie people’s details to the single identifiers in the NHS system as well as the Scottish UCRN (Unique Citizen Reference Number).

If the proposals had been adopted, the UCRN would tie people’s data across 120 other Scottish public bodies – including Glasgow Airport, the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. Scottish residents could then be tracked across all their interactions with public bodies, including your benefits, bus pass travel or library usage.

After ORG raised awareness of the proposals, over 200 of our supporters made submissions to the consultation. Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs also voiced their concerns and asked questions of the Scottish Government in relation to the proposals.

Notes to Editors

The Scottish Government’s announcement about the dropping of the proposals is here

ORG’s response to the consultation is here.

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Digital Economy Bill could make UK citizens vulnerable to blackmail

Changes to the penalties for online copyright infringement could leave UK citizens vulnerable to blackmail by unscrupulous companies that demand payment for alleged copyright infringements.

Proposals in the Digital Economy Bill would mean that anyone found guilty of online copyright infringement could now get up to ten years in prison. These changes could be misused by companies, such as Goldeneye International, which send threatening letters about copyright infringement. Typically, the letters accuse the recipients of downloading files illegally and demand that they pay hundreds of pounds or be taken to court.

Often they refer to downloaded pornographic content, to shame the recipients into paying rather than challenging the company in court. The Citizens Advice Bureau has criticised “unscrupulous solicitors and companies acting on behalf of copyright owners” who take part in such “pay up or else schemes”. It advises people who receive such letters to seek legal advice rather than simply paying them.

How do copyright trolls get ‘evidence'?
Copyright trolls compel Internet Service Providers to hand over the personal contact details of the account holder whose IP addresses are associated with illegal file downloads. However, this in itself is not evidence that the illicit downloading observed is the responsibility of the person receiving the letter.

Common problems include:
• Sharing wifi with family, friends or neighbours who may be the actual infringer

• Errors with timestamps and logs at the ISP


Why the Digital Economy Bill will make this worse
The Government has argued that it is increasing prison sentences to bring the penalties for online copyright infringement in line with copyright infringement in the real world. It also insists that it is not trying to impose prison sentences for minor infringements such as file sharing. However, the loose wording of the Bill means that it could be interpreted in this way, and this will undoubtedly be exploited by unscrupulous companies.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Unscrupulous companies will seize on these proposals and use them to exploit people into paying huge fines for online infringements that they may not have committed.

“The Government needs to tighten up these proposals so that only those guilty of serious commercial copyright infringements receive prison sentences.

“Helping companies send threatening letters to teenagers is in no one's interest.”

What does the Government need to do?
ORG has asked the Government to amend the Digital Economy Bill to ensure that jail sentences are available for serious online copyright infringement. While this will not put an end to the dubious practices of copyright trolls completely, it will prevent them from taking advantage of the law.

Notes to Editors

It isn’t known how many people have been incorrectly targeted by copyright trolls but threads such as the following from moneysavingforum.com suggest that it is common.

The Citizens Advice Bureau gives advice on how to deal with scam copyright claims here.

For further information and interviews, contact: press@openrightsgroup.org

Notes to Editors

It isn’t known how many people have been incorrectly targeted by copyright trolls but threads such as the following from moneysavingforum.com suggest that it is common. 

The Citizens Advice Bureau gives advice on how to deal with scam copyright claims here

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Espionage law would criminalise journalists

ORG condemns one sided Law Commission “consultation”

Reacting to the consultation to create a new “Espionage Act”, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said: 

“This is a full frontal attack on journalism, recommending criminalising even examining at secret services' material. The intention is to stop the public from ever knowing that any secret agency has ever broken the law.

“What editor would risk a 12 year sentence for looking at documents?

“It is squarely aimed at future whistleblowers, who would reveal government wrongdoing."

Investigative Journalist Duncan Campbell said:

"It appears the Commission took their instructions solely from the Cabinet Office and did not thoroughly check the history of the Acts. If they had, they would have known that all major parties, in and out of government, agreed that the "mere receipt" of official information should not be a criminal offence—and enacted this in law almost 30 years ago.” 

Notes

  1. The current espionage law with the Official Secrets Act under Section 1 does not criminalise receiving government data,even before an editor has had the chance to look at the information and consider the security and public interest issues involved.  
    Although there is not a specific “public interest” defence to current section 1 offences, they requires the accused to be proven to acting against British interests, which in all but one case has been against foreign agents.
  2. Section 2 of the old Official Secrets Act (1911) had to be repealed in 1989 after it was repeatedly used to try and criminalise journalists
  3. Major changes envisaged in the consultation are:
    1. To criminalise getting or publishing any government data leaks, if the govenment claims it will be damaging.  The previous requirement that the government would have to prove that there would be damage has been thrown away.
    2. To make it a criminal offence for non British subjects, or people overseas to undertake any leaking, handling or publication
    3. To reject any public interest defence.
    4. Increase all sentences from 2 years to a suggested 14 years

See  http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/protection-of-official-data/#protection-of-official-data 

and particularly the summary of the provisional conclusions at

http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cp230_overview.pdf

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Stop Trump getting our data

Open Rights Group has called on the Prime Minister to ensure that the UK is not complicit with human rights abuses if President Trump keeps his promises to reinstate waterboarding and torture

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“MPs endorsed bulk data collection when they passed the Investigatory Powers Act last year. Bulk data about UK and other citizens is freely shared with the US.

“Now, we have a US President who has proposed torturing suspects. The UK Government needs to clarify whether data sharing arrangements will continue if the President Trump acts on these comments.

“It is illegal for the UK to share intelligence if it can be used for torture but, given the close integration of the US and UK intelligence agencies, it is difficult to see how the UK could take a moral stand.”

Trump has threatened to use torture, ban Muslims from entering the US, and expand use of the death penalty. It has been reported that he will ban most refugees and suspend visas for people coming from majority-Muslim countries until an extreme vetting process has been put in place.

US/UK intelligence integration

In 2015, ORG published a report into mass surveillance, which outlined the US and UK’s intelligence agencies close integration: “The five eyes countries share raw data from bulk collection, hacking technology and tools for analysis. However, the Snowden leaks give the firm impression that the UK is the partner in the alliance that works the most closely with the US. The NSA and GCHQ have many joint programmes, including a programme for joint experiments to break encryption.” (2)

According to a Guardian report, the US Government paid at least $100 million to GCHQ between 2010-2013. (3) However, the most significant contribution is the sharing of US technologies to enable UK surveillance to take place. In return, the UK shares bulk data that it would be illegal for the US to collect. For example, in the US it was ruled illegal to do full takes of Internet data going in and out of the country. However, it is legal for GCHQ to collect data in this way, which it then shares with the NSA who are free to search and process it.

Members of the public can sign ORG’s petition to the Prime Minister here.

 

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