Supporter Newsletter: March 2017

This month we have been campaigning against the proposed changes to the Espionage Act that is currently being consulted on by the Law Commission. We are organising Local Group events up and down the country to raise awareness of what the Act means.

Spy law would criminalise journalists

The Law Commission is advising the Government how to update the law about disclosing classified state secrets. They want a new Espionage Act that could see journalists facing up to 14 years in prison for disclosing official data.

Their proposals would stop investigative journalism and public-interest whistleblowing concerning the secret state. It would mean that the then Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and James Ball could have been imprisoned for exposing the government surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden.

Whistleblowers and journalists wouldn't be able to use a public interest defence to protect themselves if they were prosecuted under the proposed Espionage Act. Instead, GCHQ and government staff would have to raise concerns internally. Journalists could be treated as spies for handling data - meaning they would have to turn down requests to investigate and report, or risk jail. 

Jim Killock, Executive Director of ORG told the Guardian: “This is a full frontal attack on journalism ... The intention is to stop the public from ever knowing that any secret agency has ever broken the law.” Please share the campaign and sign the petition.

Rudd attacks encryption

Amber Rudd has engaged in another attack on people’s security by suggesting that companies must be able to ‘remove’ encryption. But as Jim Killock pointed out in a blog on Monday, Rudd already has the powers to attack encryption. 

Last year, the UK Government passed the Investigatory Powers Act, which gives British law enforcement and intelligence agencies vast surveillance powers. These powers already grant the minister the ability to issue a “Technical Capability Notice” with which Amber Rudd could instruct WhatsApp to re-engineer their product to be surveillance-friendly.

There are enormous problems with TCNs. They can be “appealed” to a technical committee but it is unclear how well the process will ever deal with wider security concerns, or risks to the companies or their users. The process seems focused on ‘feasibility’ rather than whether introducing weaknesses is a good idea.

Fundamentally, anything which enables GCHQ to listen in could be available to someone else, whether another government, or perhaps a criminal who learns how to abuse the weakness. We should use Amber Rudd’s cheap rhetoric as a launch pad to ask ourselves why she has such sweeping powers, and what the constraints really amount to.

Wikileaks latest 

A new Wikileaks dump revealed that US intelligence agencies are working with the UK to stockpile vulnerabilities that they can use to hack Windows and Mac computers, iOS and Android smartphones, and smart TVs. The agencies will use these vulnerabilities for targeted surveillance. However vulnerabilities can also be discovered and exploited by criminals and other countries’ intelligence agencies. GCHQ's decision to keep their exploits secret could have devastating effects for society at large. Many of the vulnerabilities disclosed in the CIA's files came from UK intelligence agencies including GCHQ. The UK Government has some serious questions to answer

While targeted surveillance is a legitimate aim, we need to know that government regulation of this area is sufficient. From what we learnt during the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act, it appears that the ‘creation’ of techniques is not really regulated at all. NSA and GCHQ must disclose what they know about repairing these vulnerabilities and how they might be exploited to assist in this effort. 

Stop DEBill censorship 

The Digital Economy Bill (DEBill) is at the report stage in the House of Lords, a long way down the parliamentary process, and the concerns around age verification and censorship of legal pornographic websites are still there. Further amendments have been published but unfortunately, they are too little and too late to limit the Bill’s harm to free expression and privacy of UK citizens.

The DEBill is an example of how not to legislate for the Internet and complex social issues. Among other things, the Bill, attempts to address the issue of under 18s seeing pornography, by forcing porn sites to implement Age Verification. This ‘simple’ solution has been fraught with problems from the start.

Age Verification is in a terrible mess. There are no privacy safeguards on the face of the DEBill, which means that UK citizens could be at risk of having private information about their porn habits and sexuality leaked, hacked or exploited. ORG has repeatedly called for the privacy concerns to be addressed.

The only conclusion we can make is that the Bill is so far from ready, so absent of safeguards, that these sections need to be dropped. Read the full article here.

Quick Fire News

Relaunch of ORG Brighton
We now have two new Local Organisers supporting the group! Find out about the group's plans for the future. 

On Reddit?
Join us for a discussion about all things digital rights. Why not even become a moderator?

How are mobile phone users spied on in Birmingham?
Read the round-up of ORG Birmingham's event to learn how the police are using covert surveillance technology to spy on hundreds of mobile phone users at a time.

Digital Economy Bill briefing to the House of Lords report stage

Read ORG's concerns over the Bill.

ORG out and about

ORG Cambridge: Digital rights meet up
Tuesday 4 April, 7pm - 9pm
Join the group for their monthly meetup to discuss the current state of digital rights, what they've done in the past month and what they are planning to do in the upcoming month. 
The Castle Inn
38 Castle Street, 

ORG Brighton: The Espionage Act Talk - convicting whistleblowers as spies?
Tuesday 4 April, 7pm - 8:30pm
The Local Group is hosting an evening of talks all about the proposed changes to the Espionage Act.
Friends Meeting House

Ship Street,
BN1 1AF,

ORG Leeds: 14 years in prison for doing journalism?! An in-depth look at the Espionage Act
Wednesday 12 April, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Join us to find out from Jim Killock what the new law means for journalists and whistleblowers and what you can do to stop the Law Commission's proposals.
Cosmopolitan Hotel

Lower Briggate, 
LS1 4AE, 

ORG staff news

Jim Killock participated in a panel discussion on surveillance and the Investigatory Powers Act at the Lush Summit 2017.

Jim Killock attended a meeting with Privacy International to discuss the Espionage Act.

Jim Killock, Slavka Bielikova and Charlie Tunmore attended EDRI General Assembly 2017.