The political events of the last month, including the referendum and appointment of a new Prime Minister, could have a major effect on digital rights in the UK. We continued campaigning against the IP Bill in House of Lords, responded to the European net neutrality consultation and are preparing our response to the new Digital Economy Bill. All of this while exploring the potential consequences of Brexit for digital rights. As always, we cannot do this work without your support. The next years will be some of the most difficult and important we have had yet.
Yesterday the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) published his opinion on the UK’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). The advocate said that data retention may be compatible with EU law but can only be used to fight serious crime and under strict safeguards. The opinion also supports ORG’s claim that EU law should apply when it comes to data retention and that member states should limit their interference with our fundamental rights to what is strictly necessary.
Most importantly, he reiterated that independent authorisation of requests for data is vital to making any data retention regime compatible with privacy rights and EU law. DRIPA and the IP Bill lack this requirement. You can read ORG's analysis here.
The CJEU is being asked to clarify if its 2014 ruling that struck down the EU’s Data Retention Directive would apply to the national data retention programmes as well. After that ruling in the Digital Rights Ireland case, many EU countries stopped their national programmes. The UK, instead, rushed DRIPA through Parliament. MPs Tom Watson and David Davis brought a legal challenge and the British High Court decided that parts of DRIPA were unlawful. But the Government appealed and the case was referred to the CJEU.
This opinion is not binding – we still need to wait for the official judgment that is likely to be issued in September. DRIPA is set to expire at the end of December so the ruling could have little practical impact. However, this could be a crucial blow to the IP Bill, which extends data retention further by demanding internet service providers retain people’s Internet Connection Records.
As long as the UK is a member of the EU it will have to enforce EU law. But as DRIPA is set to expire, the Government could choose to ignore it and wait for a challenge to be made specifically against the IP Bill.
The upside is that once the ruling is made by the CJEU, we will have more clarity. This will mean any challenge to the IP Bill could be made more quickly, leaving the Government with less grounds for appeals.
ORG's response to the opinion was covered by several publication including the Guardian, Ars Technica and Fortune.
Last month’s referendum raises many concerns for the future of digital rights. In the short term, the legal and policy context does not change but the political situation has already changed dramatically.
Theresa May, our new Prime Minister, championed the IP Bill as the Home Secretary. Worryingly, she also showed public opposition to the European Court of Human Rights – which until recently she wanted to quit. As Prime Minister, her support for surveillance and measures that undermine human rights will at least be under much closer scrutiny, which could make it easier to create public debate.
There is also a new cabinet that, among other surprises, includes Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Johnson, along with new Home Secretary Amber Rudd, will be responsible for authorising surveillance warrants for the UK’s intelligence agencies, again raising the need for judicial oversight.
In the meantime, the Labour Party is going through an internal leadership contest. The majority of the Shadow Cabinet has resigned, including Keir Starmer MP who quit his role as Shadow Home Minister. He was previously responsible for scrutinising the IP Bill and has still not been replaced.
There is a level of uncertainty over digital rights in the UK as most relevant legislation is guaranteed by the EU. Read ORG’s analysis of the different Brexit models, their consequences to digital rights and to the IP Bill.
From any angle you look at it, Brexit is complex and we have only just started exploring its potential results. ORG will continue engaging in discussions with supporters and experts about it and how to approach these changes.
Whatever happens, this is going to be a challenging time for digital rights. If you are not already a paying supporter, please consider joining ORG to help us ensure that our privacy and free speech rights are protected.
Considering the uncertainty caused by the referendum, ORG called on the Government to pause the progress of the IP Bill in Parliament to guarantee adequate scrutiny. The work continued nonetheless. Yesterday there was the last session of the IP Bill committee debate in the House of Lords.
For a detailed summary of the discussions, read ORG’s policy update from last week.
We have continued campaigning against the Bill, working closely with Lords to amend it. With Don't Spy On Us we sent a public statement to the Lords signed by over 3,000 people. Thank you to everyone that took the time to sign it.
IP Bill work will slow down in August due to the Parliamentary recess. The next sitting is set to take place on the 5th and 7th September and the Bill will then move on to the Report stage in October.
We are already planning the next steps to raise the public’s concerns to peers and the new Home Secretary, including a Tweet a Lord campaign. ORG will also build on the CJEU opinion to demand that the Government responds adequately and reforms the IP Bill.
A new Digital Economy Bill has just been published covering a wide spectrum of topics that ORG works on – from mandatory age verification in porn, to raising file-sharing sentences to 10 years and extending government data sharing.
We published a first analysis of the overall Bill last month. For the upcoming weeks we will be looking into each section in more detail, evaluating the possible threats to digital rights and campaigning for a fairer Bill.
ORG made a submission to the European consultation on the new net neutrality rules. BEREC, the European telecommunications regulator – of which Ofcom is a member – is responsible for creating the guidelines to the text approved by the European Parliament. So far the rules are a step in the right direction but some areas of the text are still not clear and are open to abuse. Read our blog for an overview of the major concerns.
ORG joined the Save the Internet movement to ask BEREC to fix weaknesses in the provisions on specialised services, traffic management and zero rating. Over 500,000 citizens across Europe took part in this consultation. Thank you to all that answered the call.
We are now waiting for BEREC to publish its final guidelines, expected on the 30th August.
ORG is looking for a new supporter officer
I am sad to announce that I will be leaving ORG in August to move overseas. Let me take this opportunity to thank colleagues, supporters and organisers that made my time here so fulfilling and exciting.
This means that ORG is currently looking for a new supporter officer to engage with our dedicated membership of over 3000 people, and network of groups across the country.
The rest of the team will take advantage of Parliamentary recess and enjoy well deserved holidays in August. The next newsletter will be published in September.
July 28th, 6pm
Join ORG Aberdeen to discuss digital freedoms and explore the use of cryptographic tools. Take a smartphone or laptop and browse the web anonymously, learn about these technologies and chat about the reasons we need them.
The Illicit Still
Netherkirkgate, Broad St
August 2nd, 7pm
Supporters in Cambridge are setting up a local group. If you are around, join their first meeting and sign up to the meetup page to keep updated.
The Castle Inn
38 Castle Street
We’d like to thank our latest Corporate Supporter Paul A. Young, fine chocolates, for their generous support.