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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

What do people think of Open Rights Group?

The White Paper expresses a clear desire for tech companies to “design in safety”. As the process of consultation now begins, we call on DCMS to “design in fundamental rights”. Freedom of expression is itself a framework, and must not be lightly glossed over. We welcome the opportunity to engage with DCMS further on this topic: before policy ideas become entrenched, the government should consider deeply whether these will truly achieve outcomes that are good for everyone.

– remarks by Jim Killock and Amy Shepherd on the ORG site.

Seems to me that ORG thinks the ‘Online Harms Strategy’ just needs to be written better rather than the very notion of the government poking its nose into the internet is an abomination that needs to die in a fire. I have not followed the ORG closely, so am I being unfairly critical? Perhaps I am just allergic to the incredibly dangerous ‘positive rights’ language I see in some ORG articles. Opinions?

11 comments to What do people think of Open Rights Group?

  • MaryContrary

    ORG are well-meaning but ineffective. Partly this is due to the state of the culture (Samizdata is hardly a big mover and shaker, up-ending political reality, unfortunately). Partly though I think it’s that they’re old Leftist liberals and so compromised by a lack of philosophical consistency.

    Knowing Jim, though, you’re not being fair to accuse him of being OK with the “Online Harms” White Paper, just wishing it was better written. On the contrary, he is valiantly making the (probably doomed, but nonetheless righteous) case for freedom in the only terms that might just be listened to in the corridors of Marsham Street.

  • bobby b

    Have you looked at the White Paper? It’s full of concern over “illegal and unacceptable content and activity”, and very light on definitions of those terms. The Exec Summary says this: “Online platforms can be a tool for abuse and bullying, and they can be used to undermine our democratic values and debate. The impact of harmful content and activity can be particularly damaging for children, and there are growing concerns about the potential impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

    It also says this: “There is also a real danger that hostile actors use online disinformation to undermine our democratic values and principles. Social media platforms use algorithms which can lead to ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles’, where a user is presented with only one type of content instead of seeing a range of voices and opinions. This can promote disinformation by ensuring that users do not see rebuttals or other sources that may disagree and can also mean that users perceive a story to be far more widely believed than it really is.

    This is not the language of a governmental agency seeking to keep kiddie porn and drug marts off of the internet. This is the nonspecific language of SJW’s setting up a regime for biasing the internet.

    Seems to me ORG is trying to get DCMS to more properly define – and thus place some limits on – their mission. The White Paper, as currently structured, sets up an internet wholly owned and operated by the government and party that promulgates it and staffs it and sets out its initial daily operating regs – i.e., a SJW government of either Tory or Labour leanings (which don’t seem to differ much anymore.)

    As I read ORG, they’d like some limitations spelled out up-front. They’re not suggesting additional regulation. They’re trying to limit it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    “Perhaps I am just allergic to the incredibly dangerous ‘positive rights’ language….”

    I will never, ever believe that our Evil Hippo Leader is really truly evil. :>)))

  • Stonyground

    Some people only get to hear one side of an argument rather than a range of voices and opinions, and the solution to this is more censorship?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Of course, Stony. With all that racket of opposing views silenced, the public will not be confused. To use Sir Humphrey’s word.

  • neonsnake

    The best way to ensure that users view the rebuttal of “one type of content” is to not allow that particular type of content to be seen in the first place.

    Makes complete sense…


    I don’t follow their every blog post, but in general I’m quite a fan of ORG. They’re advocating for data privacy, for less surveillance, and for freedom of online speech, with very real examples of how regulation can be harmful to vulnerable people. Those things are probably all the ones closest to my idea of liberty, so I’m predisposed towards them.

    (I’m less sure about their stance on copyrights, but that’s on me, not them – it’s not my field, and I only rarely *have* to pay it attention, and haven’t spent lots of time researching it on my time)

  • Stuart Noyes

    It rather sickens me how the government feel like they can take the place of parents in protecting children. But with the drive for parents to go out to work and not parent, what can we expect? How about some real right-wing self-reliance?

  • I find myself wondering whether our “Tory” government, having (from a mixture of wish and necessity) sacked a sizeable proportion of those ministers who might actually belong in the party, while ignoring an even greater proportion of such backbenchers as do, are now putting as much left-wing stuff as they can in place, on the assumption that the swivel-eyed loons are coming. (This is of course a hopeful belief and I do not advise placing too much reliance on any part of it. 🙂 )

    Alternatively, could not-Brexitting be taking up so much of their time that ministers sign whatever civil servants put in front of them on other subjects. (I’m not sure this explanation is wholly alternative to the one above.)

    As regards the government, bobby b (April 16, 2019 at 11:36 pm) nails it.

    This is not the language of a governmental agency seeking to keep kiddie porn and drug marts off of the internet. This is the nonspecific language of SJW’s setting up a regime for biasing the internet.

    As regards the ORG, I’m ready enough to assume that MaryContrary (April 16, 2019 at 10:05), who knows Jim Killock, has made a correct assessment. (It might have been my guess without her info.) The ORG are “valiantly” and “righteously” making their “ineffective” and “doomed” protest in “the only terms that might just be listened to in the corridors of” power, handicapped by being “old Leftist liberals” compromised by some undermining beliefs, but also by the culture – especially the culture of today’s political class.

    If discussion of their weakly-but-thus-acceptably-phrased protests delays things in the corridors of power, that is good! And so they could contribute to a wider struggle not being doomed to ineffectiveness.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The UK government’s position on the internet and its loose definition of “harm” is indeed an abomination, and sure to lead to abuses.

    Toby Young nicely nails it:

    Monday wasn’t the best day for the government to launch Online Harms, its white paper on internet regulation. As Sajid Javid was proudly proclaiming that Britain would have the toughest internet laws in the world, it emerged that a British woman had been arrested on a trip to Dubai and faced up to two years in prison for describing her ex-husband’s new wife as a ‘horse’ on Facebook. So does the Home Secretary want the UK to have tougher internet laws than the United Arab Emirates? If so, he might find himself at odds with the Foreign Secretary, who has been working behind the scenes to secure the poor woman’s release.

  • Paul Marks

    The terrible mistake that the “Open Rights Group” makes is that it thinks it can reason with creatures such as Mrs Theresa May – it might as well try and reason with a rabid dog.

    As for Sajid Javid – as J.P. shows, he is just another establishment type, who thinks of Freedom of Speech as a problem to be solved (destroyed), rather than a sacred trust.

    At heart the problem is BAD PRINCIPLES – the principle of the establishment elite is “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” (they are all followers of Jeremy Bentham) the idea that rights might have moral value in-them-selves (not for the “happiness” they produce) is totally alien to the establishment elite.

    For example, Speaker Bercow in 2015 celebrated (with the establishment elite of all political parties in Westminster) the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Race Relations Act. What did that Act of Parliament do? Did it sweep away wicked British “Jim Crow” laws? No it did not – as there HAVE NEVER BEEN JIM CROW LAWS IN BRITAIN. What the Act of 1965 did was launch a direct attack on Freedom of Association (which must logically include the right to NOT associate) and Freedom of Speech. To Speaker Bercow and the rest of the establishment elite (especially then Home Secretary Theresa May) Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech meant NOTHING – indeed as they led to the “harm of discrimination” Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech were “problems” to be “solved”. The fact that some people used their freedom in bad ways meant, to the establishment elite, that freedom itself should be exterminated.

    I watched these politicians in Westminster in 2015 and I understood “I have nothing in common with you – your principles and mine are at war”. The getting rid of the “problem” of this blog (Samizdata) is perfectly natural for Mrs May and the rest of the Benthamite establishment elite for whom rights AGAINST the state are “nonsense” and to claim that there are natural law limits to rightful state power is “nonsense on stilts”.

    By the way I know that Mr J.S. Mill tried to square the circle of having an ANTI freedom philosophy and pro freedom politics – but I do not believe he managed it (because it is impossible), any more than F.A. Hayek manages to square the circle of having an ANTI freedom philosophy (denying free will agency, moral personhood, itself) and pro freedom politics at the start of his “Constitution of Liberty”. If one rejects the philosophy of the “Old Whigs” one loses their politics as well – as their philosophy (their conception of what a human being is) is not some optional extra – it is the FOUNDATION of pro liberty politics. And it was the free will (moral responsibility) philosophy of the Tory Dr Johnson – just as much as the Old Whig Edmund Burke.

    What does the philosophy of Sir Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Jeremy Bentham naturally lead to? I will tell you what it naturally leads to, it naturally leads to the politics of PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY.

  • I guess you were always going to get a reponse from me.

    I agree broadly with MaryContrary.

    I was on ORG’s Supporters Council for a while, but stepped down and eventually cancelled my monthly donation. ORG was set up around 2005 by a bunch of people who were adjacent to me (Danny O’Brien, Rufus Pollock, etc) through the Campaign for Digital Rights. CDR was moribund so we offered ORG our bank account, with a small four figure sum in it and limited company (which was a member of EDRi at the time). They didn’t get back to us. Two years went by before we could make the donation and shut CDR down.

    The reason I mention that history is that ORG kicked off from PledgeBank, an early crowdfunding site, and was therefore in theory a grassroots funded operation. They managed to liberate themselves from dependence on grassroots funding over the years. As the organisation drifted leftwards, it became less and less sensible for libertarians to subsidise it. I had mentally thought of it as a grassroots organisation, but of course it never really was, so a lot of my dissatisfaction is probably just the result of my own naivete.

    ORG has to operate under a lot of constraints. Funding is very limited. ORG is spread over too many issues, not just financially, but in terms of dividing its potential supporters. They’re fighting an uphill battle against policymakers’ ignorance of technology. I think a big one is also that a lot of the staff would probably want to move on to jobs in the NGO left / political parties, which makes them less likely to take hard stances on issues, or co-operate with anyone to the right of Vince Cable, i.e., the majority of public opinion. Similarly, they can’t criticise the EU very much: the new EU copyright law ought to be a huge recruiting sergeant for regulatory divergence, but that’s anathema to the people they see as their base.

    I guess I’m much more of a broad-church sort of person, and ORG started as potentially a broad-church then narrowed and made libertarians, conservatives and Eurosceptics unwelcome (explicitly so, in the case of libertarians). My model for how political, but not party-political, organisations should work is No2ID: where Lib Dems, Tories, UKIPpers, Greens and the Socialist Workers were all made to get along on pain of unspecified horrors. There is no reason ORG couldn’t have been the same way. That it is not so, is the deliberate choice of a small number of unaccountable individuals.

    All that having been said, I support pretty much all of the stances that ORG takes these days, and help them when I can, which is seldom.

    I most recently co-operated with ORG lobbying against that very legislation, going over to Brussels to lobby MEPs and their staff: ORG immediately linked me up with the right people at EDRi, vouched for me with them, and lined up some meetings for me. So credit where credit is due – they do play nicely with people who strongly disagree with them about non-digital issues.