This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 26/06/2015
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Snoopers' Charter: Lobby your MP in Parliament
Open Rights Group will help citizens talk to their MPs about government surveillance and the upcoming Investigatory Powers Bill. After a briefing in the Palace of Westminster from ORG and a few MPs about surveillance and what to say to your MP, attendant will be able to go and talk to the Member of Parliament of their constituency. The “Snoopers' Charter” is to be presented to Parliament this Autumn, and is expected to increase further again surveillance powers.
Launch of Open Rights Group Birmingham
On Wednesday, July 8th, Open Rights Group Birmingham will be launched with its first meeting. The meet-up will be a chance for people interested in digital rights to figure out how they can work to promote and protect digital rights in Birmingham and beyond. Feel free to share this blogpost to help us make a success out of this event.
GHCQ spied on Amnesty International
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a tribunal in charge of the oversight over operations of interception of data by UK authorities, notified Amnesty International on July 1st that the human rights organisation had been spied on by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
The IPT was asked by ten NGOs to assert whether they had been unlawfully spied on by UK intelligence agencies. In its judgment delivered 2 weeks ago, the Tribunal asserted that Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and South African Legal Resources Centre were indeed spied on in an unlawful manner by the GCHQ, while the other NGOs, including Amnesty International, were not. It then admitted its mistake and informed Amnesty that they had been a target, while EIPR was, in fact, not targeted. The IPT's email does not indicate when, how long and why the NGO was spied on.
The first judgment pushed several NGOs to demand an explanation from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in an open letter, and this rectification sparked outrage once again. Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General, stated that '”it’s outrageous that what has been often presented as being the domain of despotic rulers has been occurring on British soil, by the British government” , while Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, made the case that “our [the British] system of oversight and remedy has fundamentally failed".
Ministry of Defence requested access to sensitive data on schoolchildren to target its marketing for the army
Following the release of a Department for Education report into requests to access the National Pupil Database, we learned that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) made one of these requests. The national database includes very personal informations, including full name, address, ethnicity or details of academic progress of every students in England.
The MoD refuses to comment on the matter, but the transparency reports states that it wanted the data to “use targeted messaging to better inform young people of the career opportunities open to them in the Army (Regular and Reserve)”. This falls outside the scope of the legitimate claim for accessing the database, replied the Department of Education, which then denied the request. Owen Everett, from the NGO ForceWatch, told Schoolsweek that it is not a coincidence that this request came “ at a time when Army recruitment continues to be struggling, and when the armed forces policy of recruiting 16 and 17 year-olds is shortly to be challenged in a judicial review”.
Departmental and Ministerial Announcement
Prime Minister reasserts plan to access encrypted communications
Responding to a question by Conservative MP David Bellingham on June 29th, the Prime Minister David Cameron declared that "we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, […] on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on”. He also asserted that the government was “urging social media companies to work with us and help us deal with terrorism”. It is not the first time that he has talked about the need to access encrypted communications but his announcements so far have been lacking any explanation of how this could work without weakening Internet security for all. Since banning encryption would be an impractical choice, it is likely that the government would require software companies to provide backdoors in their software and ask for greater "cooperation".
This statement comes despite the news that several technology companies have already stated they would leave the UK if encryption is weakened, and only one month after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression's report making a strong case for encryption, which “enables individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age”.
European institutions strike a deal to end to data roaming charges but undermines net neutrality
After two years of negotiations between the European institutions, a deal has been struck on on the Telecoms Single Market Regulation. But while the end of data roaming charges in July 2017 is a victory for the Parliament and for consumers, digital rights activists fear that this success came at the expense of net neutrality.
Indeed, while the Commission's fact sheet hails the enshrinement of net neutrality into law, European digital rights group EDRi warns against the blurriness of the text, which means that we will have to wait for courts and regulators to provide their meaning of it. The text statutes that “fast lane” services can only be created if “necessary”, but it remains extremely broad on its definition of “necessary”. As the explanatory notes still have to be finalised in the next few days, there is still a chance that the final text will be closer to the proposition of the Parliament, which was very well-received by digital rights activists, but which has been undermined by the Council. However, commentators fear the end of net neutrality in Europe and the beginning of a two-tier Internet.
Parliament's vote on copyright could endanger Freedom of panorama
The European Parliament is to vote on July 8th on the report written by the Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda on the implementation of the current copyright legislation enforced at the European level. The report is not a binding legal text but it will indicate the position of the Parliament on copyright, just a few months before the European Commission proposes a new text on copyright.
A particular point has drawn a lot of attention this week, and even prompted a petition that received more than 200,000 supporters. Freedom of panorama, the right to use pictures of buildings, sculptures or views in the public domain without asking the owner of the copyright, is currently in place in most Member States. However, if the report is adopted, following an amendment to the report written by Jean-Marie Cavada, a MEP of the European Liberal & Democrats party, the use of such pictures could be illegal other than for personal purposes. This endangers artistic creations, creates a grey area on the publication of those pictures on social network and would mean that Wikipedia, for example, could no longer use images of famous monuments.
The European Parliament will vote its position on TTIP next week, as a compromise on ISDS has been found
The European Parliament's vote on its recommendations to the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will take place next week. Officially, the vote had been postponed so that the enormous amount of amendments could be examined, but commentators understood the decision of the European Parliament's president, Martin Schultz, as a way to make sure that his party, the Socialist & Democrats, could reach an internal agreement on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision (ISDS). This provision would allow for the creation of ad hoc international tribunals in which a company could sue a state if its benefits were endangered by the state's policy. This particular mechanism has attracted a lot of attention and criticism from citizens and civil right groups, denouncing a blow to sovereignty.
The International Trade Committee of the Parliament found a compromise by adopting an amendment calling for the creation of international tribunals if need be, but stating that “private interests cannot undermine public policy objectives”. This should allow the European Commission room for negotiating the creation of international tribunals, which the US adamantly demands, while abating fears that they threaten the rule of law. National Parliaments will have the power to veto TTIP eventually, and some of them have already taken strong stance against ISDS mechanisms.
The next rounds of negotiations over TTIP will take place mid-July in Brussels. The US administration aims at finishing it next year.
The Intercept sheds light on the NSA XKEYSCORE programme
The Intercept, an online newspaper with a focus on revelations on mass surveillance after the Snowden's revelations, issued a series of article on one of the National Security Agency\National Security Agency's (NSA) key programmes, XKEYSCORE. Thanks to 48 top-secret documents, it highlights the “astonishing[...] reach and potency of XKEYSCORE as a surveillance instrument”.
The first article examines how XKEYSCORE captures traffic from fiber optic cables to collect and store all traffic for several days. This is not only emails and web-browsing traffic but also pictures, voice calls, traffic from popular social media (described as a “great starting point” for research) or webcam photos.
NSA agents, as well as similar organisations of the so-called Five-Eyes countries (UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia), have access to “tens of billions of records”. Internet users are uniquely identified thanks to their browser cookies, and agents can conduct thorough surveillance searches “simply by entering entering a person's email address, telephone number, name or other identifying data” in a search engine described as user-friendly and compared to Google.
The U.S. government has often argued that it needs these programs to ensure the security of its citizens, and these documents show that indeed it was used against terrorists. But the article shows there was a much larger scope.
Auditing are conducted to ensure that the searches do not target citizens from the United States, and even sometimes citizens from the Five-Eyes countries, but whistleblower Edward Snowden declared in January that the programme is in fact “free from any meaningful oversight”.
The second article examined the overall lack of security of the program, with hardware scattered all around the world, “badly designed software” and poor security practices such as accounts' sharing. In the end, the Intercept concludes that “if XKEYSCORE development has continued at a similar pace over the last six years, it’s likely considerably more powerful today.”
Google applies right to be forgotten worldwide for “revenge porn” but not for other search queries
Google announced in a blog post that it would de-index links to “revenge porn”, naked pictures of videos of people published online without their consent, on the grounds that these images are “intensely personal and emotionally damaging”.
At the same time, Google could be in legal trouble if it doesn't comply with the French data protection authority's (CNIL) request to apply the right to be forgotten worldwide. Since a European Court of Justice judgment last year, search engines have to de-index links resulting for nominal search queries if they are “irrelevant or outdated”. However, the American company only enforces the right to be forgotten on its European domains (such as google.co.uk), but not globally (such as google.com). Google has now less than two weeks to apply the right globally before facing an heavy fine from the CNIL.
ORG Media coverage
See ORG Press Coverage for full details.
- 2015-06-26 – LibDemVoice - Willie Rennie and Greens’ Patrick Harvie support launch of Open Rights Group Scotland
- Author: Caron Lindsay
- Summary: Article covering the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland
- 2015-06-29 – The Courier - Calls for Scotland to lead the way with ‘digital Magna Carta’
- Author: David Martin
- Summary: Pol Clementsmith, Scotland Officer for Open Rights Group, calls for a “digital Magna Carta”
- 2015-06-29 – V3 - European net neutrality under threat, warn rights groups
- Author: Dave Neal
- Summary: Open Rights Group encourage citizens to contact their MEP to protect net neutrality
- 2015-06-29 – Business Insider - David Cameron is going to try and ban encryption in Britain
- Author: Rob Price
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on the dangerousness of Prime Minister's possible plan to ban encryption