Supporter Newsletter March 2020

In February Open Rights Group (ORG) continued the fight for UK digital rights by standing up for encryption, raising the alarm on user data transfers to the US and opposing government plans to appoint a state regulator of online speech.

ORG weighs in on escalating encryption debate

In response to children’s rights groups’ joint letter condemning Facebook’s plans to bolster encryption for its messenger, ORG countered that undermining encryption creates far more problems than it solves. Encryption is literally the foundation of a secure internet for all, including children. It is wishful thinking to assume “digital back doors” for authorities won’t be exploited by hackers, criminals, even abusers, to gain access to our private lives. Tampering with encryption is a dangerously shortsighted move by politicians eager to look tough on social media platforms.

ORG warns Google’s US data transfer weakens our privacy

In response to Google’s Brexit-inspired decision to transfer control of UK users’ data from Ireland to the US, ORG Executive Director Jim Killock said, “Moving people's personal information to the USA makes it easier for mass surveillance programmes to access it. There is nearly no privacy protection for non-US citizens. Data protection rights will also become more fragile, and are likely to be attacked in trade agreements pushing 'data flows'.”

ORG offers alternative to state regulation of online speech

The government’s plans to grant telecom regulator Ofcom new powers to protect users from harmful content will lead to state regulation of online speech. By contrast, co-regulation, which does not have the same inherent conflict of interest, is a far better alternative that provides internet companies with independent scrutiny. The Government’s proposed “duty of care” to address online harms remains an open-ended and vague concept that needs vastly clearer definition. 

Strengthening the right to data subject access

Last week ORG delivered a submission to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consultation on the Right of Access Guidance broadly supporting the proposal and providing a range of areas in which it can be usefully and easily improved. The right to subject access is a vital data right that gives individuals important control over their personal data. 

Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill advances with ORG recommendations

Amendments made to the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill have strengthened the status of the proposed Commissioner by providing an individual complaints procedure, making the code of practice set by the Commissioner binding and allowing for the Commissioner to present compliance notices. ORG called on all of these areas to be included for the Commissioner years ago during the Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometrics. 

Police Scotland drops facial recognition technology

Police Scotland shelved plans to deploy facial recognition technology after an investigation by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing concluded the technology was “not fit” for use because of how it discriminates based on gender and race. Echoing evidence submitted by ORG, their report called facial recognition “a radical departure from Police Scotland’s fundamental principle of policing by consent.” Scotland stands alone among UK countries in rejecting facial recognition. 

ORG around the UK

ORG Data & Democracy Project Officer Pascal Crowe submitted evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies. Pascal called for a market based approach to regulate the use of data in political campaigning. 

In February ORG Glasgow held an event exploring the question of whether surveillance is creating a culture of self-censorship. ORG Glasgow organiser Jennifer Breslin posted an inside look at the Computers, Privacy & Data Protection Conference in Brussels. ORG Norwich held an event about Brexit’s impact on digital rights and ORG London hosted a talk by Privacy International about their campaign to challenge intrusive police surveillance tools.

Join us in March for a pub social in Cambridge, a CryptoParty in Oxford, or a talk in London about surveillance in education.

Thank you for supporting UK digital rights.