Supporter Newsletter: November 2016

This month's newsletter looks at the Govenment's plan to censor thousands of legal adult websites and what we are doing to oppose these proposals. We also explain how we are going to fight the Govenment's decision to pass the IP Act, the most extreme surveillance law in UK history. As always, we cannot do this work without your support. The next few years will be some of the most difficult and important we have had yet.

MPs vote for a national censor

Amendments to the Digital Economy Bill were accepted by MPs during its third reading on Monday. This will mean that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in its new role can instruct Internet Service Providers to block access to thousands of porn websites that don’t verify the age of their users, even though their content is legal in the UK. This could affect millions of people. In addition, sites that are not sanctioned must obey the regulator’s instructions and censor what is deemed unacceptable. 

The BBFC has indicated that porn websites must censor ‘non-conventional sex acts’ that are unclassified in the UK. This could include whipping that causes marks, female ejaculation, acts involving urination and sex during menstruation. 

Executive Director, Jim Killock said: “In the short term, this is likely to disproportionately affect sexual minorities. However, there are wider implications for free speech. Once this administrative power to block websites is in place, it will invariably be used to censor other content. MPs have already asked why other material that is unsuitable for children is not being censored.” 

More than 13,000 people have signed our petition calling for Parliament to reject these plans. We need to make this campaign as big as possible if we're going to stop this. Please sign and share the petition against the censorship of legal adult content.

Investigatory Powers Act is UK's most extreme surveillance law

On Tuesday, the Investigatory Powers Bill became the Investigatory Powers Act as it was given royal assent. As Executive Director Jim Killock told the Guardian, this means the UK has “one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy”. In recent weeks, over 145,000 people have signed a Parliament petition calling for the IP Act to be repealed. This means that Parliament needs to consider debating it, although it is unlikely to limit these powers. However, the courts might be more successful in restraining mass surveillance.  

A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union, expected next year, may mean that parts of the Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended. ORG intervened in this case and will work with other organisations to support other legal challenges. We also have an ongoing case about the UK's surveillance regime at the European Court of Human Rights.

Facebook is right to sink Admiral's app

On the day before Admiral tried to launch Firstcarquote, their application’s permission to use Facebook data was revoked by the social media site. According to Admiral young people could offer up their Facebook posts in the hope of getting a reduction in their car insurance. However, their application has been found to be in breach of Facebook's Platform policy section 3.15.

There are significant risks in allowing the financial or insurance industry to base assessments on our social media activity. Whether intentional or not, algorithms could perpetuate social biases that are based on race, gender, religion or sexuality. Will we start self-censoring our social media out of fear that we will be judged a high risk at some point in the future? It is sensible for Facebook to continue to restrict these activities, despite patents indicating that they may themselves wish to monetise Facebook data in this kind of way. 

Admiral’s application shows a lack of understanding of the risks and responsibilities in parts of the financial industry. If this disregard is symptomatic, it may point to a need for sector specific privacy legislation for the financial industry, to further protect consumers from abuse through use of inappropriate or unreliable data. 

Donald Trump will exert a great deal of control over GCHQ’s operations

“If there were a crisis in the relationship between the UK and the US, what risks would our shared intelligence arrangements pose?” We asked this question in our 2015 report about the Snowden leaks. We might be about to find out the answer. The Snowden documents show that Britain’s GCHQ and America’s NSA work very closely together. They are integrated in a way that means it is difficult for our Parliament to hold GCHQ to account. 

We rely so much on US technology and data that it poses questions for our sovereignty. Is sharing of UK citizens’ “bulk data” with a Trump government safe? Will Trump threaten the UK with the removal of key technologies, if our government steps out of line? Will he push the UK into taking ever greater risks and intrusions as the price for this close relationship?

Oversight of this state of dependency between the UK and USA is woeful in the UK. If we want our future to be safe, this is time to rethink how surveillance is governed and overseen. 

No one expects spam for Christmas

Debenhams, Topshop, Argos and Next are just some of the High Street shops that have started to offer their customers e-receipts when they pay for goods. 

But according to a Daily Mail investigation, many of these shops could be breaking data protection law because they are failing to give customers the full picture of how their email addresses are being used. In some instances, this could be a lack of training for staff on the tills. However, it’s clear that shops see e-receipts as an opportunity to gather data about their customers.

This kind of email collection is not just taking place in shops. ORG was recently contacted by Nullig who was bombarded with unsolicited marketing emails after she bought something over the phone from Debenhams. The law is very clear. At the point that email addresses are collected, customers need to be given 'a simple means of refusing' any future direct marketing emails. Find out what you can do to stop the spam.

Quick Fire News

TfL needs to give passengers the full picture on WiFi collection scheme
Transport for London is running a trial that uses people's mobile phones to track crowd movement around 54 London Underground stations. We think they have to do a better job of communicating to passengers what the trial is, what the data will be used for, and how people can opt out.

5 minute explainer: Government plans to censor adult content

We sat down with security expert Alec Muffett to talk about how the UK Government plans to block adult content.

ORG Birmingham event round up
Read Francis Clark's (Local Organiser for ORG Birmingham) Mozilla Maker Party event round up to find out how EU plans for copyright threaten creativity and free expression.

ORG out and about

ORG Cambridge: Digital rights meet up
Tuesday 6th December, 7pm - 9pm
Join ORG Cambridge 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 weeks.
The Castle Inn,
38 Castle Street, 

ORG Manchester: Christmas social
Thursday 8th December, 7pm - 9pm
Join ORG Manchester for their joint Christmas social with Manchester No2ID.
120 Grosvenor St, 
M1 7HL

ORG Birmingham: Christmas social
Monday 12th December, 6pm - 9pm
Join ORG Birmingham for their joint Christmas social with NetSquared Midlands for a chance to talk to people who care about digital rights.
Hennesseys Bar,
30-31 Allison St, 
B5 5TJ

ORG London: Come to a presentation on data-collection apps
Wednesday 21st December, 7pm - 9pm
Academic Jennifer Pybus will be holding a presentation on a recent hack day she led, where her students created an app that showed how advertisers collected data.
Newspeak House,
133-135 Bethnal Green Road, 
E2 7DG 

ORG Aberdeen: Cryptonoise: how to protect your self online
Thursday 29th December, 7pm - 9pm
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.
57 North Hacklab,
35a Union Street, 
AB11 5BN

ORG staff news

Jim Killock, will do an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit this Thursday at 2pm GMT. Jim will be answering questions on the Investigatory Powers Act, the Digital Economy Bill and how we fight for digital rights in the UK.

Jim Killock attended the Mapping Second General Assembly conference on managing alternatives for privacy, property and Internet governance in Prague.

Corporate sponsors

We’d like to thank our latest Corporate Sponsor LCHost, for their generous support.