Open Rights Groups - the first two years

Becky sez,
The Open Rights Group has published a review of its first two years of activities this morning.

Little more than two years ago, the Open Rights Group was just an idea in the heads of half a dozen individuals. Today, it is a vibrant organisation, responding to a wide array of government consultations, driving forward high-profile projects and featuring in the address book of dozens of journalists. Today we are celebrating how far we've come since the founding of an organisation Lawrence Lessig has called "the most important evidence that we pessimists were wrong".

And we're asking people in the UK to get behind the Open Rights Group with their financial support (ORG survivies on individuals donating a fiver a month) so we can meet the challenges of the year ahead, as content industries, not satisfied with controlling your devices, are seeking to control your internet connection too and the fight against the surveillance state comes to a head.

I helped found ORG and I've been incredibly proud and impressed by the brilliant work that the people who run it have accomplished. I will soon be a permanent resident of the UK (I'm coming to the end of my second visa here) and the freedom afforded by this country matters deeply to me.

Electronic voting and electronic counting
Towards the end of 2006, we added electronic voting (e-voting) to the group of issues we were actively campaigning on. The Government had announced that 2007’s English local elections would include a number of trials of e-voting and e-counting. In Scotland, all votes in the May 2007 local and regional elections would be counted electronically. ORG is fundamen- tally opposed to e-voting, because electronic voting and counting are “black box” operations – there is no way to verify that the data that enters the system is correctly processed and that the results provided at the end are an accurate representation of voter intention.

In collaboration with the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), ORG organised three events for e-voting activists during early February, comprising a workshop, a debate and a screening of HBO’s documentary Hacking Democracy. The events drew in activists from around Europe and served as a learning exercise for ORG’s subsequent campaign, funded in part by a generous grant of £23,950 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd.

ORG co-opted Jason Kitcat, a long-standing e-voting campaigner, to its ranks. Kitcat worked closely with the Electoral Commission to negotiate official Election Observer status for ORG volunteers, allowing teams to attend polling stations and watch proceedings. In all, 25 people devoted a day to democracy, committing to observing as much of the election as they were allowed to witness, and reporting their findings back to ORG. ORG provided them with full instructions on how to carry out their Election Observer duties, what to look for and how to deal with any problems with the observation mission.

Link (Thanks, Becky!)

Update: Danny O'Brien has an amazing post about this


  1. I’ve just realised there’s a further reason to oppose e-voting in the UK. And it’s quite serious.

    UK elections are not, technically, a completely secret ballot. When you turn up to vote, the polling staff verify that you’re claiming to be someone on the electoral register. Most people present the “remember to vote” card they’re sent, which carries your “poll number”, a membership number in the electoral register. If you don’t do that, they ask for your name and address and verify that there’s someone matchuing that on the hardcopy electoral register they have to hand. With you verified – and your poll number to hand – they tear a numbered ballot slip out of the book they come in, and note your poll number ont he counterfoil. You then fill in the slip, and drop it in the ballot box.

    This does mean that it’s possible to go backwards from votes to identities. For each vote of interest, you read the ballot slip number off the slip, turn up that page in the book of ballot slip counterfoils and read off the voter’s poll number, then look that up in the computer version of the electoral register. This is a lot of work, if you want to identify any significant number of votes, so it isn’t considered a problem with the paper system. The numbering of everything is a fairly decent anti-fraud measure. It is rumoured that during the Cold War the “security services” used the system to identify people who voted Communist, but I don’t know the truth of that.

    However, if all the data is computerised, it become trivially easy to identify how everyone voted. And that has lots of potential for straightforward electoral corruption. If local governments, who run the ballots, can identify exactly who is supporting them and who isn’t, all sorts of things become easy for them to do. For a historical example of UK local government using its power to manipulate voting, see

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