Meetup: Free speech online

The British government announced in the previous Queen’s speech that they wish to introduce a new Digital Charter – a collection of legislation, initiatives and guidance intended to protect citizens from potential harms online, whilst also allowing for personal freedom. Although the actual charter has yet to be published, several aspects have been announced already, such as

  • the criminalisation of watching extremist content,
  • an online hate crime hub to report cases to the police,
  • the regulation of social media companies.

However, there are several issues with the approach our government is taking. For instance, how does the government define:

  • Protected speech?
  • Hate speech /  crime?
  • Harmful content?
  • Extremist content?

It is also “passing the buck” onto social media companies to regulate the law, whilst also refusing to clarify these categories.

Join us the evening of Monday 26th March, 6:30pm-8:30pm at the Sloman lounge, Department of Computer Science, University of Birmingham. We are pleased to host Dr. Dima Saber (Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University) and Dr. Bharath Ganesh (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford), who will be sharing their expertise in journalism and social media.

RSVP here.

Dr. Dima Saber is a Senior Research Fellow at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (Birmingham City University). Her research is focussed on media depictions of conflict in the Arab region, and she is responsible for leading and delivering projects in citizen journalism, particularly exploring the relation between digital media literacy and social impact in post-revolution and in conflict settings such as Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Her latest publications include work on crowd-sourced Syrian archives as memories of the Syrian war (in Archives and Records, 2017), on Hezbollah and IS videogames productions (in Media, Culture and Society, 2016), and on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the July 2006 war (in The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research, 2016). She is currently writing a monograph titled ‘Archives of War: Narrating 60 Years of Conflict in the MENA’ which looks at the relation between media archives of conflict and processes of history making in contexts such as Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

Dr. Bharath Ganesh is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. His current research explores the spread and impact of data science techniques in local governments across Europe, right-wing and counter-jihad extremism in Europe and the United States, and uses big data to study new media audiences and networks. He is developing new projects to study hate speech and extremism online and regulatory responses to this problem. Broadly, Bharath’s research focuses on the relation between technology, media, and society. Previously, Bharath was a Senior Researcher at Tell MAMA, a national project dedicated to mapping and monitoring anti-Muslim hate in the United Kingdom. He has given evidence in the Houses of Parliament on governance, extremism, gender, and hate crime and authored a number of reports in this area.

Practical ways to De-Google-ify your search footprint

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who took part in our meetup last month at Birmingham Open Media. This post aims to capture the main points of advice we gave about alternatives to using Google for search. We’ll be sharing more tips about alternatives to other everyday Google services in future posts.

An organiser for Open Rights Group Birmingham showing giving tech advice to three men

Why De-Google-ify?

Most of us recognise the power Google, Facebook, and other internet giants have over our daily lives. Chances are, you’ve been freaked out by just how much Google knows about you (and everyone else for that matter) and what this means for our society as a whole.

For a more detailed look at the issue Google poses for competition, privacy, security, and freedom of expression, please check out our recent post on why you should De-Google-ify your life.

Alternatives to Google search

Google has become synonymous with search, so much so that don’t search for something, we “Google it”. Google is the market leader when it comes to search, but there are good reasons to be concerned about how much you’ve come to rely on the services.

While most Google services are ‘free’, we pay with them through the sensitive data we divulge. Even in Incognito mode, Google’s own Your Data web page acknowledges it records and stores everything you’ve searched for and visited, and ties this back to you.

It’s unclear how long Google keeps hold of your search history for but, given the lack of clarity over this in Google’s current privacy policy, it’s probably safe to assume they hold onto your data basically forever.

Given all of this, what can you do if you don’t want Google to know everything about you?


Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo markets itself as “The search engine that doesn’t track you”. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo’s privacy policy is refreshingly straightforward, stating plainly:

“DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information”

Unlike Google, which stores your search history to create a detailed picture about you, when you use DuckDuckGo the company has no way of knowing who you are and linking your searches together.

DuckDuckGo’s privacy credentials haved been given a boost by the Tor project, which in 2016 made it the default search engine for the Tor browser. For more information about what Tor is and how it works, watch the video below.

The downside to DuckDuckGo not ruthlessly harvesting your personal data is sometimes the search results you get aren’t quite as immediately helpful as Google and you’ll need to further refine your search in order to find what you’re looking for.

Luckily, DuckDuckGo does still allow you to search Google when you need to. Bangs, named after the American term for exclamation marks(!), allow you to directly search thousands of websites from DuckDuckGo, including Google. Typing in !googleuk followed by your search term will take you directly to the search results. Bangs can also be used to search Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites.


Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage
Search results for Open Rights Group Birmingham in StartPage

While DuckDuckGo is improving all the time, what can you do if you really can’t bring yourself to give up on the convenience of Google search results? StartPage web search just might be for you.

Like DuckDuckGo (and unlike Google), StartPage aims to avoid collecting or storing any personal information when you use the service. Its privacy policy states: “StartPage does not collect or share personal information. We don’t track or profile you.”

StartPage acts as an intermediary, anonymously submitting your search query to Google and returns the familiar Google results, minus the tracking. StartPage still makes its money through advertising, but the targeting is limited to the topics you are searching for and the company is not building a gigantic trove of personal information.

While StartPage offers real privacy benefits over regular Google, by using the service you are still supporting the Google beast. Depending on how you feel about that, you may prefer to back upstarts like DuckDuckGo, which represent a cleaner break from the internet giant.

Why you should De-Google-ify your life

Google UK logo adapted to read De-Google-ify

Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media last week for our meetup on how to De-Google-ify your life. It was fantastic to know so many people are concerned about our collective reliance on Google services and are interested in discovering viable alternatives.

Over the next week, we plan to share examples of high quality alternatives to everyday Google services. In the meantime, here’s an overview of why you should De-Google-ify in the first place.

Continue reading Why you should De-Google-ify your life

Meetup: learn about how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham

Mobile phone mast with blue sky

Join us at Birmingham Open Media at 6.30pm on Wednesday 22 February for our first meetup of 2017.  We’ll be looking at how polices in the West Midlands are covertly using devices- known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays – to indiscriminately intercept and hack up to 500 phones every minute. We’ll be exploring what police use of IMSI-catchers means for our human rights and civil liberties and what we can do to challenge indiscriminate surveillance.

Continue reading Meetup: learn about how mobile phone users are spied on in Birmingham

You’re invited to our copyright maker party

Y U No Like meme with the caption "Y EU No Like Memes?"

EU plans to reform copyright law threaten creativity and free expression on the internet, placing serious restrictions on the ability of ordinary users to create, share and remix memes, GIFs and other forms of culture. Come along to our free Maker Party at Centrala in Digbeth on Tuesday 22 November at 6pm to make illicit digital culture with artist Antonio Roberts (@hellocatfood) and learn more about what you can do to achieve real, progressive changes in copyright.

Continue reading You’re invited to our copyright maker party

Is everyday surveillance a religious issue?

Professor David Lyon giving his talk on why surveillance is a religious issue at St Martin's in the Bullring church in Birmingham

Last night (17 October) Open Rights Group Birmingham organiser Francis Clarke attended a talk on surveillance by Professor David Lyon of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University in Canada. Here Francis shares his notes from the event along with his thoughts on what civil liberties campaigners can learn from Professor Lyon’s talk.

Continue reading Is everyday surveillance a religious issue?

Join us on 28 September to find out out how the Snoopers’ Charter threatens press freedoms

Image of red telephone next to the words 'Save Our Sources', illustrating the Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign

We’re pleased to announce our next meetup after the summer break will take place on  take place on at BOM (Birmingham Open Media) at 6.30pm on Wednesday 28 September.

Please join us then to find out more about how the Government’s plans to expand online surveillance through the Investigatory Powers Bill (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) threatens press freedoms, why this matters for our democratic society and what action each of us can take to stop the Bill.

Join us to protect press freedom and democracy

Journalists have been some of the fiercest critics of the Government’s plans to expand surveillance powers through the Investigatory Powers Bill, launching the Save Our Sources petition to protect journalistic sources from state surveillance.

The meetup will feature contributions by Paul Bradshaw, Course Leader of Online Journalism MA at Birmingham City University and  Founder of Online Journalism blog and Help Me Investigate, an award-winning platform for collaborative investigative journalism.


Although ORG Birmingham events are free, it really helps if people can RSVP via our meetup page. This helps us get an idea of likely numbers and makes it easy for us to let you know about future events.

Take action!

As well as attending the meetup, you can take the following actions to oppose the Government’s plans and demand targeted, not total surveillance:

Sign the Save Our Sources petition

Use ORG’s easy-to-use tool to Email your MP

Join Liberty’s #NoSnoopersCharter campaign

What is the Investigatory Powers Bill?

In November 2015, the Home Office published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), which was intended to be a comprehensive new law that would replace the UK’s broken legal framework for surveillance. However, instead of restricting mass surveillance, it will put all of the powers revealed by Edward Snowden and more into law.

Big Brother Watch have created fact sheets that explain the implications of the Bill in more detail.

If passed, the UK will have a surveillance law that is more suited to an authoritarian regime than a democracy. The Don’t Spy on Us campaign is calling for the Bill to be amended so that surveillance is targeted to those who are suspected of a crime, not the entire UK population.

More about ORG

Open Rights Group (ORG for short) is the UK’s only digital campaigning organisation working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online. With almost 3,000 active supporters, we are a grassroots organisation with local groups across the UK.

ORG Birmingham is a local branch of ORG. We meetup regularly at Birmingham Open Media. You can also keep in touch with us via the ORG Birmingham blog and our Twitter account, @OpenRightsBrum.

The Haystack and what Brexit means for digital rights in the UK

Still taken from The Haystack documentary on surveillance in the UK. The image shows people walking along a crowded street in central London and a news headline which says 'Britain is too tolerant and should interfere more in people's lives, says David Cameron'

On Monday evening we held a screening of The Haystack surveillance documentary at Birmingham Open Media, followed by a discussion of what the recent Brexit vote means for digital rights.

Continue reading The Haystack and what Brexit means for digital rights in the UK

Discover great free and open source software at our next meetup

Rosie the Riveter Free Software/Open Source propaganda by Iwan Gabovitch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We’ll be holding our next meetup on Wednesday 20 April at Birmingham Open Media and we’d love it if you could join us and get involved!

Following on from well-attended practical session on protecting your online privacy and security, we’ll be introducing you to some amazing software packages and tools which you are completely free and legal for you to download.


All the software we’ll be introducing you to will be free and open source. Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. That means it not only costs you nothing to use it (free as in beer), but gives you the right to make changes and contribute improvements (free as in freedom).

Free software and digital rights

As well as helping people access to software they would not otherwise be able to afford, free and open source software is really to protecting our privacy, security and human rights online. Because anyone can study and modify the software code, it is easier to spot and fix security bugs. And because no single company controls the software, it is harder for governments to forces companies to spy on their users as in the recent FBI versus Apple court case.

You can find out more about free software on the Free Software Foundation website.

You should come to this meetup if:

  • You need software such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office for work or education but can’t afford the licence. GIMP is a high quality free alternative to Photoshop while LibreOffice can replace MS Office.
  • Your laptop is a good few years old and is struggling to run Windows. The open source Ubuntu operating system could breathe new life into your computer.
  • You’re worried about how much control Facebook, Google and Apple have over digital and want to find viable alternatives such as Firefox web browser and Signal private messenger.

Don’t forget to bring your laptop/tablet/smartphone with you so that we can try out rather than just talk about software!

RSVP via our Meetup page

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday 20 April.



Art against the Snooper’s Charter workshop a success

Thank you to everyone who was able to join us last Wednesday at Birmingham Open Media for our creative workshop to raise.

We had a fun evening making memes and other visual materials designed to raise public awareness of the government’s plans to push ahead with its controversial new surveillance bill, officially known as the Investigatory Powers Bill but better understood as a Snooper’s Charter.

The idea behind the evening was

You can read a write-up of the event and see the artwork we created over on Birmingham Open Media’s website.

Art against the Snooper’s Charter 

We hoped creating memes and other visuals would help more people understand what’s at the stake if the Snooper’s Charter becomes law. Speaking in parliament the day before our meetup, My local MP Steve McCabe (@steve_mccabe) summed things up quite nicely, saying that if the bill is passed in its current form “we will be the envy of states such as North Korea, China and Iran“.

Envy of North Korea

I’m pleased to report we have had a good reaction so far to our artwork on Twitter, with people re-tweeting and liking our creations and sharing their own.

Give memes a chance

If you’d like to have a go at creating your own protest meme, check out ImgFlip’s easy-to-use Meme Generator web tool.

Want to create something a little more complex? Why not try using the free and open source GIMP image editor to mock up a thought-provoking image like this playful riff on 1984?

Spread the word


If you like any of the visuals we’ve created or decide to create your own, please think about sharing them with your friends and family. Visuals hit home to people in a way that complex arguments and wordy blogs can’t possibly hope to.

If you’re sharing on social media , remember to mention the Investigatory Powers Bill/Snooper’s Charter in your posts and, if possible include the hashtags #IPBill and #SnoopersCharter. If you’re using Twitter, copying in @OpenRightsBrum will also allow us to more easily re-tweet your posts.

Don’t forget to email your MP (and sign the 38 Degrees petition)

While it’s really important we broaden the reach of our campaign through memes, we still need to keep up the pressure on MPs through traditional campaigning methods.

If you’ve not already done so, please use Open Rights Group’s easy-to-use web tool to email your MP today. The more MPs hear concerns from their consituents over the coming months, the better chance we have of stopping the Snooper’s Charter.

Once you’ve done this, please also take a couple of minutes to sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, Stop Government Plans to Snoop on Your Internet History.

Can you spare a few quid to fight the Snooper’s Charter?

Lastly, the Don’t Spy On Us coalition (which Open Rights Group is a member) is currently a crowdfunding a hard-hitting advertising campaign to raise awareness of the Snooper’s Charter. Please spare what you can to help stop the bill.

Don’t Spy On Us launches fundraiser for Investigatory Powers Bill ad campaign