Press releases

Press releases


ORG response to Home Affairs Committee report on hate speech and Internet companies

Open Rights Group has responded to an inquiry by the Commons Home Affairs committee, which calls for Internet companies to do more to take down hate speech and illegal content.

Executive Director, Jim Killock said: 

“This report is very imbalanced. While social media companies have serious obligations to deal with illegal content, they also have a duty to make sure any censorship they conduct is correct.

“The report assumes that identifying extremist content is a simple matter for technology to deliver.

“MPs need to be extremely careful as financial and legal incentives to censor material would almost inevitably leads to removal of legal material, including, for example, commentary opposing terrorism, that simply uses some of the same images or texts.”

For more information, email press@openrightsgroup.org

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Parliament votes to put privacy in hands of porn companies

The UK parliament has passed a law that could put web users at risk of hacking and blackmail.

The Digital Economy Bill (DEBill) will require that porn sites verify the age of their users in order to prevent under 18s from viewing pornography. Despite concerns that this will leave porn users vulnerable to hacks and security risks, the Government has failed to amend the Bill so that privacy is written into the legislation. Instead, Codes of Practice will place the responsibility for protecting people’s privacy with porn sites not the companies supplying age verification technology.

Executive Director Jim Killock said:

“Age verification is an accident waiting to happen. Despite repeated warnings, parliament has failed to listen to concerns about the privacy and security of people who want to watch legal adult content.

“As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about people’s sex lives, has huge repercussions for those involved. The UK government has failed to take responsibility for its proposals and placed the responsibility for people’s privacy into the hands of porn companies.”

Censorship regime

The Bill will also enable the creation of a censorship regime as the BBFC will be given powers to force ISPs to block legitimate websites without any judicial process. These powers were added to the Bill, when it became apparent that foreign porn sites could not be compelled to apply age verification. During parliamentary scrutiny, they were extended to include other content, not just pornography, raising further concerns about the threat to free speech.

Killock added: “These new powers will put in place a vast system of censorship which could be applied to tens of thousands of adult websites. The BBFC will be under pressure to censor more and more legal content. This is a serious assault on free speech in the UK.”

Almost 25,000 ORG supporters signed a petition calling for the Government to reject plans for blocking legal pornography.

For more information, email press@openrightsgroup.org or call 020 7096 1079.

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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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