ORG policy update/2015-w31

This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 24/05/2015

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Open Rights Group's work

ORG asks for clarification and transparency from Intellectual Property Police Unit

Open Rights Group has written to the City of London Police's Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PICPU) to ask for clarification on the important questions left unanswered in our previous correspondence. PICPU, operational since 2013, tackles serious and organised IP crime committed using an online platform.

One of the main concerns is the issuing of take-down requests without a court order, which can lead to arbitrary censoring of the Internet. This lack of judicial oversight is disturbing, even more so given PICPU's partnership with advertisers and rights holders who can identify and report alleged copyright infringing sites to the unit. Furthermore, ORG calls for the publication of guidelines and more transparency on the way PICPU operates.

Response to the Intellectual Property Office consultation on higher penalties for online copyright infringement

Mid-July, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has launched an open consultation on a proposal to bring the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement up to par with physical infringements – that is, ten years in jail.

In its response, Open Rights Group has called attention to the impact of this proposal on end users who are not part of a criminal enterprise. Physical and online copyright infringement are, in several important ways, different. In particular, sharing physical copies of a work protected by copyright to a large number of people would require an “infrastructure clearly beyond the reach of ordinary citizens”, while it is easily done online, and can even be done unwillingly. Moreover, copyright protection laws have a strict liability criteria, which means that the defendant needs only to be responsible to be found guilty, whether he intended or understood that he was committing an infringement or not.

In practice, the sentences for online infringement are already very harsh, and the propose changes could “make non commercial online infringers end up with much higher sentences than hardened criminals dealing with physical goods”. The sentence for unwillingly uploading a copyrighted material becomes ten years in prison, it would be three years longer than the sentence for theft.

National Developments

If pornographic websites can't prevent children from accessing them, they will be banned, says Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Thursday, July 30th, that age verification mechanisms will have to be put in place on pornographic websites to prevent children from accessing them. A consultation will be launched this autumn in order to find a consensus on the best ways to restrict children's access to such websites. The government declares it would prefer voluntary agreement, such as a blocking of content through payment providers, but is “prepared to legislate [...] if the industry fails to self regulate”. This could mean making it an offence in the UK “to publish pornography online without age verification controls”.

The government has of yet to specify how this would work, given that there are a lot of pornographic sites operating from outside the UK. ORG Executive Director, Jim Killock, warns that in order to block foreign pornographic websites, “the government would have to introduce a national firewall, which would censor sites for everyone, and would likely be widely circumvented.”

Freedom of Information to be reviewed by a commission of high-ranking civil servants

The implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoI) is to be reviewed by a cross-party commission, ten years after it was enforced. The law allows citizens to obtain informations hold by public authorities, unless they are confidential, sensitive or personal. The announcement of this review comes just a month after the revelation by an insider source that public administration bodies automatically delete a large numbers of email, thus making them unusable for FoI requests.

The composition of the commission has attracted criticisms. Former home Secretary David Davis has argued that the absence of civil rights campaigners and journalists in the commission will make it “harder for people to have confidence” in its findings and its opinion on the balance between accountability and the need for confidentiality on certain matters. The Commission is expected to publish its findings by the end of November 2015.

International Developments

Google refuses to comply with French demand to apply right to be forgotten globally

Google has announced on Thursday, July 30th, that it refuses to comply with the CNIL (the French data protection authority) demand to apply the “right to be forgotten” worldwide. This right emerged from a judgment of the European Court of Justice in 2014 stating that citizens have the right to obtain from search engines that they de-index links if the information concerning them is “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive”.

This right was controversial at its launch, and contested by Google, but after one year of enforcement the results have been judged positive. But another problem arose in June when the CNIL announced it would fine Google if it kept applying this right only on European national domains (such as and not worldwide ( This makes the judgement ineffective, argued the data protection authority.

In its reply this week, Google warned against the “serious chilling effects” of defending such a position, as countries with Internet censorship could also argue that content outlawed in their countries should be in-indexed globally.

German tech news journalists investigated for treason for publishing classified documents on mass surveillance

Two journalists and unknown sources of Netzpolitik, a German tech and policy news website, are being investigated for treason on account of the publication of classified government documents earlier this year. These documents described the German government's plan to expand surveillance on the Internet, with methods that the German website has compared to the NSA's mass data acquisition. The journal, financed by voluntary donations, stated that it will “not be intimidated”, and has called for a dropping of the charges and public scrutiny of the expansion of mass surveillance. “From the beginning, the charges against our alleged source(s) were politically motivated and targeted to crush the necessary public debate about internet surveillance Post-Snowden. Whistleblowers in the public interest need protection, not prosecution as ‘treason”, argued one of the journalists under investigation.

A large section of German public opinion, via Twitter, plus the Green Party and the chair of the Bundestag's legal affairs committee, have condemned this move, described as a blow to freedom of information and the rule of law.

White House rejects a petition to pardon Edward Snowden

Lisa Monaco, the US President's Advisor on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, responded this week to a petition demanding pardon for Edward Snowden's whistleblowing on secret surveillance programs. Monaco argued that Snowden should “accept the consequences of his actions[,] come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers”. She maintained that Snowden's actions “had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work [...] to protect it.” This last point has always been a matter of contention, as other officials have pointed out that the kind of documents leaked by Snowden didn't contain information that could allow the identification of undercover agents.


Report on Scottish sovereignty in the age of mass surveillance by member of ORG Scotland Advisory Board

Alistair Davidson, Open Rights Group Scotland advisory board member, issued on Tuesday, July 28th, a report on Scottish Data security and sovereignty on Tueday, July 28th. This followed revelations that mass surveillance undermined the Wilson doctrine, which was designed to protect Parliamentarians from being spied on by the intelligence services.

The report's main recommendation is a massive transition to open source software, which are “more trustworthy” as they are “publicly auditable”, and thus cannot contain undetectable “backdoors” such as the ones used by agencies such as GCHQ or the NSA. It also supports an investment in critical infrastructures and the use of encryption in Scottish government as well as private sector communications.

ORG Media coverage

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

2015-07-30 – IBTimes - David Cameron's internet porn shut down could lead to 'national firewall' akin to China
Author: Anthony Cuthbertson
Summary: Jim Killock quoted on what how a ban on porn websites could mean the creation of a national firewall.
2015-07-30 – The Inquirer - David Cameron wants to block non-age verifying porn sites
Author: Dave Neal
Summary: Jim Killock quoted on whether a ban on porn websites is a realistic goal
2015-07-31 – Tech Week Europe - How we’re fighting back against the UK surveillance state—and winning
Summary: ORG's press release on David Cameron's announcement on a possible ban on porn websites
2015-07-31 – Mirror - David Cameron wants to shut down porn sites - but will it work? Everything you need to know
Author: Dan Bloom
Summary: Jim Killock quoted on what how a ban on porn websites could mean the creation of a national firewall.

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