The office of the West Midlands Police and Crime and Commissioner has used national security and law enforcement exemptions found within the Freedom of Information Act legislation to refuse our request for more information on the oversight arrangements in place to safeguard the West Midlands Police’s use of covert mobile surveillance capabilities.
Thank you to everyone who joined us at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) on Wednesday for our exploration of how the police are covert surveillance technology known as IMSI catchers to spy on hundreds of mobile phone users at a time. Here’s a round-up of the evening, in case you missed it or would like to know more.
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.
We’re excited to announce we’ll be screening ‘The Haystack’ documentary, which examines the rise of suspicionless surveillance in the UK, at our next meetup on Monday 4 July.
With the EU Referendum dominating the news agenda, you may missed the news on Tuesday that the government has agreed to Labour’s demands for an independent review of the so-called bulk powers set out in the Investigatory Powers Bill.
I’ve previously blogged about how the language the government uses to describe is designed to be as boring as possible in order to disccourage public scrutiny. For an idea of how effective this can be as a tactic, see the comedian Jon Oliver’s piece on the campaign for Net Neutrality, which he memorably described as “even boring by C-Spann standards“.
What are bulk powers and why should you be concerned?
Under the Investigatory Powers Bill, the term ‘bulk powers’ gives the government to powers:
- Tap fibre cables and scoop up vast amounts of global internet data – essentialy collecting, storing and analysing everyone’s web traffic, emails, messages, Skype calls, etc.
- Require communications providers collect and store for 12 months internet connection records for all UK citizens – this will show every site you’ve visited, the locations you have visited (thanks to mobile location tracking) and which apps you have installed on your phone.
- Broad powers to hack internet equipment – instead of hacking a suspect’s computer, authorities will be able to hack the network for the entire Greater London area, putting vital infrastructure at risk.
The easiest way to understand bulk powers is the oft-cited needle in a haystack analogy. The government is seeking powers to gather hay on the whole population, in the hope that if they will then be able to spot the needles (suspected terrorists and other criminals).
The Open Rights Group and other members of the Don’t Spy On Us coalition believe bulk powers constitute mass surveillance, which is fundamentally incomptabile with basic human rights of privacy and freedom of expression. Liberty have produced a detailed briefing on the problems with the bulk powers as they are currently stand.
Reasons to be cautious about the independent review
On the face of it, the announcement of an independent review of bulk powers is to be welcomed. After all, it shows the government is willing to listen to criticism, right?
While the review is a valuable opportunity for campaigners to raise awareness of the problems with bulk collection, we should be cautious about what difference the review will make for a couple of reasons:
- The review will be conducted by David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. While Anderson has received praise for some aspects of his 2015 review of terrorism legislation (A Question of Trust), he was criticised for accepting the case for bulk collection. Are Anderson’s views on bulk collection will have moved significantly in the past year or so?
- The goverment is under no obligation to act on the findings of the independent review. Forgive me if this sounds cynical, but the government has so far pushed the bill through parliament and taken onboard very little of the criticisms levelled by no fewer than three parliamentary committees. With the review coming so late on in the parliamentary process (the bill is due to receive its third and final reading in the House of Commons in June), there’s a real chance the government will merely pay lip service to Anderson’s recommendations.
Keep up the pressure – email your MP and sign our petition today
Given the uncertainty which surrounds the inpendent review, we can’t afford to wait until Anderson reports back on bulk powers. It’s vital we keep the pressure up on the government. You can do this by:
As well as keeping up the pressure on politicians, it’s vital we continue to talk to our friends and family about the dangers of the Investigatory Powers Bill. By doing this we can raise public awareness and get more people to oppose the bill.
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!
We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday 20 April.
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.
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“.
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.
Last week, the Home Office published its revised Investigatory Powers Bill (AKA the Snooper’s Charter) less than three weeks after receiving widespread criticism from no fewer than three separate parliamentary committees.
Chances are, if you’ve visited the Open Rights Group Birmingham you know and care about this already. The problem is, how many of your friends and family who aren’t into digital rights/politics/human rights first of all know about what the government is up to, let alone are committed to stopping them?
Email your MP today!
Right now, the campaign is focused on asking supporters to email their MPs about the Investigatory Powers Bill. The hope is that if MPs receive enough emails from their consituents expressing concerns over the bill, they will be more likely to carefully consider the bill and not simply nod it through.
If you’ve not done so already, please email your MP today! Open Rights Group has created an online tool for contacting your MP as well as some suggestions for what to say in your email.
Join us next Wednesday (16 March) for art against the IP Bill
As important as it is to email your MP about the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPBill), it can be a little dull. Given the mindboggling array of digital technology at our disposal, and open Rights Group’s base at Birmingham Open Media, surely we can do better than email?
For that reason, we’ve decided to hold a special ‘Art Against the IPBill’ session next Wednesday (16 March). Please sign up via our ORG Birmingham Meetup page.
Think memes, animated GIFs, looping videos, audio storytelling and anything else that will get across all that is wrong about the IP Bill. Liberty have produced a very good analyis called the IP Bill: the good, the good, the bad and the downright scary but I can’t help but feel it’s missing a LOLcat.
Bring along anything you think will help you create. This could be your trusty laptop, tablet or phone. Alternatively, you might like to go old school and work with a pen and a pad.
We’re hoping to have some fully paid-up artists from Birmingham Open Media and beyond to help inspire us with their creativity. If you’re an artist and you’d like to get involved, please do get in touch or simply drop in on the night.
Looking forward to seeing you next Wednesday. And in the meantime, please don’t forget to email your MP.
Please RSVP for the session via the ORG Birmingham Meetup page
You’ve probably heard by now that earlier today (1 March) the Home Office has published the revised Snoopers’ Charter / Investigatory Powers Bill less than three weeks after three reports by MPs and peers made 123 recommendations for changes.
On first reading, the revised Bill barely pays lip service to the serious concerns raised by the committees that scrutinised the draft Bill. The Bill still includes police powers to see which websites and apps we use, and bulk surveillance powers for GCHQ – it needs serious improvements.
You can find out more on the Don’t Spy On Us coalition website.
Ask your MP to stand up to the Home Office
Now that the Home Office has published the Bill, we need MPs to stand up to the Home Office’s attempts to ride roughshod over parliamentary scrutiny and avoid having a proper public debate.
You can help by contacting your MP to tell them you are unhappy about what the Home Office is doing and asking them to make sure the Investigatory Powers Bill is not rushed.
The national Open Rights Group has created an easy-to-use form for emailing your MP:
Remember, you don’t have to write a lot, the most important thing is to contact your MP as soon as possible to remind them that the Home Office should not rush the Investigatory Powers Bill should not be rushed through parliament. The main messages to include are:
- The Investigatory Powers Bill should not be rushed. The Home Office has been told to examine carefully the criticisms and recommendations of three Parliamentary committees. Less than three weeks is not enough time for a considered redrafting of the Bill. The new Bill only has a few significant changes from the draft version.
- The new powers for the Police to access our ‘Internet Connection Records’ – a database of our online activity in the last 12 months – is invasive and unneccessary. Internet Service Providers, web hosting companies, and parliamentarians have been critical of this power.
- The arguments made for bulk collection powers and Internet Connection Records are built on anecdotes. The operational case needs to provide figures, costs, and be open to scrutiny.
Keep up to date with ORG Birmingham
Please sign up for our mailing list to be first to know about future workshops, talks and campaigns:
The Open Rights Group needs your help! Please read on for how you can help stop the government passing the seriously flawed Investigatory Powers Bill.
This is less than three weeks (!) since the Joint Committee set up to review the bill published a report calling on the government to make significant changes to the bill, including:
– Strengthening privacy safeguards
– Clarifying the government’s position on encryption, which is essential to modern life and the digital economy
– Making the case for mass surveillance/bulk collection of everyone’s data in a way that is legally compliant with the UK’s obligations to protect the right to privacy
You can read more about the committee’s recommendations over on the Open Rights Group website.
These are complex issues and the stakes are incredibly high – our civil liberties and national security are at stake. It is difficult to believe the government has given itself enough time to take on board the feedback it has received. Instead, the government is giving the impression that it is determined to pass the Investigatory Powers Bill at any cost, in order to free up more time to focus on higher profile issues, such as this summer’s referendum on EU membership.
Take action – email your MP today!
If we are stop the government rushing through the Investigatory Powers Bill, we need to gain the support of MPs.
You can help by emailing your local MP to let them know you are concerned about the government’s plans to rush through the Investigatory Powers Bill.
You can easily find out who your local MP is and email them directly via the excellent WriteToThem website.
Please don’t let the technical aspects of the surveillance debate put you off contacting your local MP. Simply letting your MP know you are concerned about the government’s approach and asking them to consider the issues will make a real difference.
Wherever possible, please include in your email a link to the guidance the Don’t Spy on us coalition has produced for parliamentarians. This explains in more detail the problems with the Investigatory Powers Bill and what MPs can do to make the bill fit-for-purpose.
When writing to your MP, remember to be polite and encouraging, not rude and demanding. Respectfully making your local MP aware of the issues surrounding the bill is the best way to build support for an Investigatory Powers Bill that is truly fit-for-purpose.