This coming Thursday (13 April 2017), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international body responsible for developing web standards, is set to recommend Digital Rights Management in the form of Encrypted Media Standards, become an official part of HTML5. Here’s a quick run-down of why this matters and what you can do to stop it happening.
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.
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.
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.
We’re pleased to say our #SaveOurSources event at BOM last Wednesday Wednesday (28 September) was a great success. Thank you to all our speakers and everyone who contributed to the event by asking questions in person and via social media.
Here’s a round-up of the event, including links to presentation and other useful resources. Please also check out #saveoursources on Twitter to get a flavour of what we discussed.
If you were inspired by last week’s event, please scroll to the bottom of this page to take action. You can find links below to simple steps you can take to support media freedom and also protect your own online security and privacy.
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.
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.
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.