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.

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Join us for our Halloween Social

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.

With our digital rights under threat by governments and corporations, the world can seem a pretty scary place for people who care about ensuring our rights come with us when we go online. Give yourself the night off worrying by joining us for our first-ever ORG Birmingham Halloween Social on Monday 30 October.

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Cybersecurity for ‘real people’: useful resources

Portrait of Home Secretary Amber Rudd with the words, Cybersecurity for 'real people'

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Monday evening at BOM for our cybersecurity for ‘real people’ workshop. It was clear from the sizeable turnout and lively discussion that plenty of real people in Birmingham do care about online security, contrary to what the Home Secretary Amber Rudd might like to believe. Special thanks also go to Mari (@bouncinglime on Twitter), who stepped in at short notice and shared with us her experience of using Tor.

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New ORG Birmingham video and putting digital rights on the General Election agenda

Screenshot from Open Rights Group Birmingham video profile featuring interview with Local Organiser Francis Clarke

Those of you who attended last month’s meetup at BOM might remember that we had a special guest in the form of multimedia journalist, Chevening Scholar (FCO) and MA Social Media student Thomaz Pirez (@Thomaz_pirez). Thomaz had asked if he could make a short video about ORG Birmingham as part of a project he’s doing on social media.

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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.

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ORG Birmingham Mozilla Maker Party helps fix copyright one meme at a time

On Tuesday evening we met at Centrala arts space in Digbeth to hold our first ever  held our first ever Mozilla Maker Party. The purpose of the evening was to make  people aware of EU plans to change copyright in ways that threaten creativity and freedom of expression on the internet. `Attendees worked with Birmingham-based digital artist  Antonio Roberts to create satirical memes and rebellious selfies to highlight the flaws in the EU’s plans and make the case for a copyright system which  is able to keep up with how we lives our lives now.

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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.

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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.

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Let’s get together to watch ‘The Haystack’ documentary on 21st century survillance

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'

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.

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Independent review of bulk powers announced but still no room for complacency over the Investigatory Powers Bill

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Photographer: GCHQ/Crown Copyright

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.