ORG Birmingham Halloween Social shows digital rights and fun aren’t mutually exclusively

Banner image combining the Open Rights Group logo, the words Halloween Social and two icons of a pumpkin and a black cat. The banner is promoting ORG Birmingham's Halloween Social on Monday 30 October 2017.

Thank you to everyone who joined us at BOM on Monday evening for our first-ever Halloween Social. After some initial nerves over whether anyone besides local organiser Francis would embrace the Halloween theme, our event proved fancy dress, trick or treat Haribo sweets and digital rights activism can mix.

Skeleton argument wins top prize

Thanks to the generosity of Open Rights Group HQ , we were able to award prizes for fancy dress and Halloween atmosphere.

Top prize for fancy dress went to legal student Georgia, who came dressed as a ‘skeleton argument’ by stapling together legal papers to make a costume, and won an ORG t-shirt for her efforts.

Female student Georgia wearing fancy dress and holding an ORG t-shirt
Law student Georgia shows off the ORG t-shirt she won for her skeleton argument fancy dress

Georgia’s fancy dress reminded us of the shaky legal arguments used to justify the mass surveillance, online censorship and anti-whistleblower policies which the Open Rights Group and others challenge. If you haven’t done so already, please sign our latest petition, Censorship and control are not the answer to extremism.

Local NUJ Chair and freelance journalist Tony Adams also won a signed copy of ORG’s 10×10, a collection of essays on the future of digital rights. Tony won the book for the spooktacular video he’d made earlier in the day to promote our event.

For extra geek points, Tony’s copy of 10×10 was signed by science fiction author, blogger, digital rights activist, and friend of ORG, Cory Doctorow, which was pretty neat.

Theresa May makes an unexpected appearance

As the event organiser, Francis sadly couldn’t win a prize for his  Snoopers Charter costume.

His costume was made up of pieces of card with details of the websites Francis had visited over the past week.

Under the Investigatory Powers Act (AKA the Snoopers Charter), which was passed in late 2016, the Government now requires Internet Service Providers to carry out mass surveillance and store a detailed record of every website you’ve visited over the past 12 months. Liberty is in the process of challenging the legality of the Investigatory Powers Act and you can help by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign.

Instructions for Humans

We also had the good fortune to receive a personal tour of BOM’s current installation, Instructions for Humans, by Pete Ashton, the artist who devised the exhibition.

Subtitled art in the time of mass surveillance, Pete’s exhibition presented an artistic response to many of the issues we at ORG care deeply about.

We were particularly impressed by Black Box, a reflection on the opaque algorithms and machine learning technologies which increasingly influence our lives. Black Box periodically spewed out machine-developed artwork and instructions.

Artist Pete Ashton standing in BOM next to a Black Box with print-outs of paper on the floor
Artist Pete Ashton explains how Black Box uses opaque algorithms to generate art

As well as the pre-prepared pieces, Pete is also manning Instruction Space,  a workspace where he will be working throughout the life of the exhibition to develop new art on a daily basis

As well as Pete’s own work, Instructions for Humans also features contributions from other artists. Nye Thompson’s @backdoored_ provoked lots of discussion because of its use of video footage obtained from unsecured CCTV cameras. While most of us felt Nye’s work would alert the public to the urgent need to improve Internet of Things (IoT) security and the vital importance of strong encryption, one guest felt the artist had crossed an ethical line in using private video footage in his work.

If you’ve not done so already, please do check out Instructions for Humans. The exhibition runs until 16 December 2017 and like all BOM exhibitions, entry is free. In particular, ORG supporters may be interested in coming to a special Data Detox event on Wednesday 18 November, which Pete will be running in conjunction with Fiona Cullinan. Here’s the blurb:

Artist Pete Ashton, who has been working in the gallery as part of Instructions for Humans since September, will be spending this week focussing on issues around Privacy and Data Security. From passwords to encryption to strategies to control your online identity.

He will be joined by Fiona Cullinan who has been researching these issues in depth over the last year and who will have just completed a fortnight working at Tactical Tech’s The Glass Room in London. At this informal Data Detox Surgery they aim to help you understand the technologies and systems that run the internet and discuss strategies for protecting your privacy and securing your information. No technical knowledge is required. This event is aimed at the confused!

Free to drop in, no booking required. For more details of more Instructions for Humans events, see the instructionsforhumans.com site.

Pub philosophy

After discussing Pete’s exhibition, the most committed of us made our way to Cherry Reds, where we continued the conversation over a drink or two, before making our way home.

Next up, ORGCon 2017 this weekend

Next up, ORGCon 2017, the UK’s biggest digital rights event, will be taking place in London this weekend (4-5 November). If you’re not yet a member, join ORG and you’ll qualify for a free ticket to the event.

At this year’s ORGCon we’ll be talking about the key issues of the day from porn, killer robots and online abuse to surveillance, extremism and the impact of Brexit on digital rights.

Local organiser Francis will be volunteering at the event and several other members of the group are planning to attend. If you’re thinking of coming, do please let us know via our Meetup page or on Twitter @OpenRightsBrum and we’ll try to arrange to meet up IRL in London.

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