The evening was introduced by Suw Charman, Executive Director of ORG, who asked Jonathan Zittrain, Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation, Oxford University (Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society) to say some words. He was impressive and I look forward to meeting him again tomorrow morning at the OII. He spoke about how the launch of ORG was 'not a moment too soon', the future of the net being so uncertain. After Suw had spoken about ORG, Lloyd Davies (some of us had already seen more of him than we'd bargained for) took over and ran the evening, centred around a number of "conversations": eg, how we should/could engage lawyers; how we engage MPs and MEPs; how we make the ORG an organisation that does for Britain and British law what the EFF does for the US; tackling the challenge of copyright law (including working for the abolition of Crown Copyright) … The ORG has much to do to establish and define itself, but is already being heard. It has my £5 a month and I hope to hear a lot more from it as it works with like-minded organisations (such as The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) in the area of digital rights.
The need for the ORG is in part summed up (via email) by Danny O'Brien: 'The emergence of new communications technologies has radically changed the civil rights landscape in our society. Privacy, intellectual property, and access to knowledge are just some of the areas where digital rights are being eroded by government and big business.'
As of today, the Wikipedia entry for ORG runs:
The Open Rights Group (Org) is a UK-based organisation that hopes to preserve digital rights and freedoms by serving as a hub for other cyber-rights groups campaigning on similar digital rights issues. Like the EFF, it will campaign against the entertainment industry's attempts to limit what people can do with digital media, as well as highlighting a variety of privacy related issues. It will also provide information to the media and co-ordinate grassroots campaigns.
O'Brien first publicised the organisation, and attempted to secure funding for it, with a pledge on PledgeBank, placed on July 24, 2005, with a deadline of December 25, 2005: "I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK but only if 1,000 other people will too." The pledge reached 1000 people on 29 November 2005.
Just as the pledge reached maturity the organisation launched at a "sell-out" meeting in London's district of Soho. The same day controversial plans to surveil British road users as part of a new road taxation scheme were featured on the front page of The Times.
- to raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses
- to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
- to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
- to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
- to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts
It was a pleasure to catch up with Thomas again and with a number of acquaintances from previous conferences and meetings (notably, Suw, Stefan Magdalinski, Paula Le Dieu, Julian Bond, David Weinberger and, most unexpectedly, Jimmy Wales), and to meet for the first time others whose work I'd heard of. Central to the evening, though very modest, was Tom Steinberg, founder of My Society — see, WriteToThem and TheyWorkForYou — and associated with the Young Foundation (itself associated with the Skoll Centre, Saïd Business School). He explains PledgeBank here. He is a Demos author and there's a relevant BBC piece here.