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.

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

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

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.

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

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?

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

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.

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

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.

 

 

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

10y87t(1)

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

Can your memes and animated GIFs stop the Investigatory Powers Bill?

Investigatory Powers Bill meme shared by academic Paul Bernal on Twitter

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.

Investigatory Powers Bill meme shared by academic Paul Bernal on Twitter
Investigatory Powers Bill meme shared by academic Paul Bernal (@PaulBernalUK) on Twitter

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

Investigatory Powers Bill now published : Email your MP!

Cover of Draft Investigatory Powers Bill report

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:

Email your MP tool

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.

We’d love to hear what kind of repsponse you get from your MP. You can let us know via Twitter @OpenRightsGroup and @OpenRightsBrum

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:

Open Rights Group mailing list

You can also follow latest developments on Twitter @OpenRightsGroup@OpenRightsBrum and the #IPBill hashtag.