Surely the Phorm web page interception scam is illegal ?

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The Register has published some diagrams of how the appalling Phorm web advertising scheme will work, Major UK broadband Internet Service Providers British Telecom Retail, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse TalkTalk, all seem to have signed a "commercial suicide pact" contract, to abuse their customer's data privacy, without first obtaining their prior informed consent.

See - How Phorm plans to tap your internet connection

Think back to all of the well founded privacy fears about DoubleClick cookies, and about Google keyword searching of all the text of yur emails and documents in your "free" gmail account.

Phorm appears to be a combination of these two direct marketing approaches , except this time it is inflicted on all the web traffic of the unlucky customers of the participating ISPs, via man-in-the-middle attack hardware plugged into their core network infrastructure.

Phorm perpetuate the common misconception amongst advertising weasels, that if your web browser software connects with a particular website, at any time, then that somehow means that you as a person, are positively and genuinely interested in receiving direct advertising related to the vague subject category in which they have arbitrarily categorised that website. They never seem to make adequate allowances for accidental visits to websites, or for visits on behalf of other people, whose consumer preferences do not match those of the regular user of a particular computer. To do so accurately, they would have to compile an individual browsing history.

Even if you believe Phorm's weasel worded hand waving marketing-droid promises about "100% Consumer Privacy", these seem to be impossible to deliver with the architecture described in the BT diagrams, which The Register has published.

Phorm's claims that they will somehow provide an anti-phishing service, cannot be reconciled with their promise that they will ignore https:// SSL encrypted traffic - if they do so, then what real use is their "service" against real phishing attacks on internet banking websites, which all use this ?

How, exactly can any of this be legal ?

Since many people use web based email systems, for example, these ISPs and Phorm should be prosecuted for illegal interception of communications without a warrant signed by the Home Secretary under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 section 1 Unlawful interception, and each of the people responsible should be facing up to 2 years in prison, including those who seem to have already conducted full scale pilot trials of this technology on unsuspecting BT customers.

Criminal liability under RIPA cannot be evaded simply by changing the Terms & Conditions of your civil contract with your Internet Service Provider.

Things to do about Phorm:

  1. Write to your ISP, and get an assurance that they are not selling your data to Phorm or to anything similar.

  2. If you are a customer of BT Retail (or of any other BT divisions e.g. BT Business) , Virgin Media or Carphone Warehouse Talk Talk,, then you might like to write to them quoting the very clear The Data Protection Act 1998 section 11:

    11 Right to prevent processing for purposes of direct marketing

    (1) An individual is entitled at any time by notice in writing to a data controller to require the data controller at the end of such period as is reasonable in the circumstances to cease, or not to begin, processing for the purposes of direct marketing personal data in respect of which he is the data subject.

    (2) If the court is satisfied, on the application of any person who has given a notice under subsection (1), that the data controller has failed to comply with the notice, the court may order him to take such steps for complying with the notice as the court thinks fit.

    (3) In this section "direct marketing" means the communication (by whatever means) of any advertising or marketing material which is directed to particular individuals.

  3. Complain to the supposedly independent, customer focussed Telecommunication Industry Regulator - Ofcom

    Ofcom
    Riverside House
    2a Southwark Bridge Road
    London
    SE1 9HA

    [...]

    If you have a complaint about a Telecommunications, Broadcast or general issue please call 020 7981 3040, 0300 123 3333 or if you want to complain in Welsh, 020 7981 3042.

    [...]

  4. Join and Support the Open Rights Group, who will be campaigning to raise awareness of this issue,

  5. Subscribe to the BadPhorm - When good ISPs go bad! website for the latest news on this topic.

  6. Configure your web browser's privacy settings to delete any existing cookies, and to block future cookies from any subdomains and tld extensions of *.phorm.*, *.webwise.*, *.oix.* or *.sysip.*

  7. Consider boycotting any products or services which are advertised through this Phorm Open Internet Exchange direct marketing scheme.

  8. Lobby the anti-spyware and anti-virus software companies to protect you from these snooping cookies automatically.

  9. If you never want to have anything to do with Phorm or Webwise or their OIX network, and you suspect that they might try to intercept other internet protocols which you might be using e.g. SMTP email or Instant messenger chat or peer to peer networks etc, you can try blocking their domain names through your local hosts file, which takes precedence over DNS lookups on most Windows or Unix systems.

    The Windows hosts file (which is a text file named hosts, but with no file extension) is usually found at, for example, C:\WINNT\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

    e.g. Using a text editor, eg..Notepad, add entries like this with the domain name aliases separated from the numeric loopback IP address, by at least one space or by two tab characters:. Unfortunately you have to enter each subdomain explicitly, without any asterisk wildcards , which do work in the Browser cookie Blocking described above. e.g.

    127.0.0.1 localhost

    # Phorm

    127.0.0.1 a.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 b.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 c.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 bt.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 m01.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 m02.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 ns1.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 ns2.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 www.webwise.com
    127.0.0.1 webwise.com

    127.0.0.1 a.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 b.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 c.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 bt.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 m01.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 m02.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 ns1.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 ns2.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 www.webwise.net
    127.0.0.1 webwise.net

    127.0.0.1 a.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 b.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 c.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 bt.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 m01.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 m02.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 ns1.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 ns2.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 www.webwise.org
    127.0.0.1 webwise.org

    127.0.0.1 a.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 b.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 c.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 m01.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 m02.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 ns1.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 ns2.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 www.oix.net
    127.0.0.1 oix.net

    127.0.0.1 a.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 b.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 c.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 m01.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 m02.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 ns1.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 ns2.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 www.oix.com
    127.0.0.1 oix.com

    You might need to temporarily change the settings of your anti-virus / anti-spyware protection, which might lock this file from being modified.

    N.B. by doing this you will not be able to check the Phorm or Webwise websites for any news about their scheme such as, hopefully an apology and climbdown in the face the opposition from the computer privacy literate section of UK internet users.

  10. Neither Blocking the cookies nor the DNS lookups in your hosts file will actually prevent the Phorm man-in-the-middle-attack hardware from illegally snooping on your electronic communications, it will just stop you getting the targeted adverts

British Telecom are using this Phorm scheme, which they call BT Webwise, but not, for example, to offer an advertising funded, free broadband service, where the customers would be fully informed about what they are signing up to - they are simply inflicting it, by default, on their existing fee paying customers.

We will be trialling BT Webwise in March before launching for all customers in phases. Please check this page for up-to-date information on BT Webwise.

British Telecom has a FAQ page about their BT Webwise service, which also fails to reassure us about the privacy implications of this technology. They emphasise the supposed anti-fraud feature, which they admit does not actually work very well, without mentioning the advertising revenue they hope to get from interfering with your web page browsing e.g.

I didn't switch on this service. Why do I have to switch it off?

We believe BT Webwise is an important improvement to your online experience -- giving you better protection against online fraud and giving you more relevant advertising.

We realise that you may not want to use the free service, so we've made it quick and easy to switch on and off

The arrogant assumption that everyone should be automatically opted in to this scheme by default, without any consultation or notification, does not engender any trust in their other promises about this commercial snooping and interception scheme.

8 Comments

I'm not sure of the legal technicalities here, but if they are actively processing (and responding to) the information that goes down the line (as opposed to simple cacheing/blocking) do they then lose their status as 'common carrier' (or equivalent)?
If this is the case, can they then become liable (or at least lose deniability) in respect of e.g. extremist websites, libel etc...?
I'm reminded of way-back-when of someone trying to sue an ISP because of a news posting and the ISP claiming it wasn't their responsibility because it was an automated and unfiltered system. I think they caved, but only because it was too much hassle...?

The Information Commissioner's Office has been investigating Phorm:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/pressreleases/2008/phorm_statement.pdf

3 March 2008

Advertising technology company Phorm.

A spokesperson from the ICO said:

"The Information Commissioner's Office has spoken with the advertising technology
company, Phorm, regarding its agreement with some UK internet service providers. Phorm has informed us about the product and how it works to provide targeted online advertising content.

"At our request, Phorm has provided written information to us about the way in which the company intends to meet privacy standards. We are currently reviewing this information.

We are also in contact with the ISPs who are working with Phorm and we are discussing this issue with them.

"We will be in a position to comment further in due course."

Kent Ertugrul - Phorm CEO online interview

There's been quite a lot of interest and discussion following the announcement of the Open Internet Exchange (OIX) and Webwise from Phorm. The company's CEO, Kent Ertugrul will be available to answer your questions in a live web chat via the Webwise site at www.webwise.com/chat on 6 March 2008.

Between 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm tonight, Kent will cover recent announcements from Phorm and give you a chance to ask the founder exactly how Phorm is revolutionising the Internet through more effective anti-fraud technology, more relevant advertising and a new gold standard in privacy. For further information, please visit www.webwise.com or www.phorm.com.

More Questions and some replies from Phorm at
Political Penguin:

http://www.politicalpenguin.org.uk/blog/p,298/#comments

There is also a new blog on the Phorm corporate website:

http://www.phorm.com/blog/

Hi spyblog,

Thought you might be interested in the following pieces:

Chris Williams from The Register came in to see us and published the following:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/07/phorm_interview_burgess_ertegrul/

Jack Marshall from Clickz also paid us a visit:

http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3628654

Also a firm but fair piece by Wendy Grossman. (the title of her blog 'net wars' may give you a clue as to her independence and veracity. She's pretty embedded with ORG and PI too.

http://www.pelicancrossing.net/netwars/


FYI and to clarify a misunderstanding: Phorm approached and met with the ICO before our announcement on Feb 14. We have an ongoing dialogue with the office. In addition, Phorm took part in the recent public consultation: The Data Sharing Review. This independent review was conducted by Richard Thomas and Dr Mark Walport.

Thanks for posting the Penguin -- he/she had quite a number of questions. Responses to the first 20 or so are up.

Also there's more info on Bob Piper's site -- clarity if it's needed for your readers on all things Russian, Chinese and so on.

If you have any questions do mail me. Or come and visit us -- we're thinking of holding an event soon. Would you in principle come along?


Best wishes and keep up the good work,

Comms team

I am sick of Phorm and the misleading spin they are placing on this. The patent application clearly shows that the Phorm system. Too many lies have been told by phorm and the PR team. All of which can be proved to be deception to the community.

http://www.freshpatents.com/Targeted-advertising-system-and-method-dt20060921ptan20060212353.php?type=claims

for example

"where the script is configured to set a cookie in the browser, and where the cookie contains at least a portion of the browsing information. "

A COOKIE CAN BE TRACKED. IT IS STORING PERSONAL BROWSING INFORMATION. You lie Phorm

"Context reader 40 is not limited to acquiring keyword or other contextual information pertaining to a given web page. Indeed, the browsing information may be collected so as to also include historical data pertaining to the browsing performed "

Again Phorm have been lying. The truthe of the matter is in the patent.

"Based on analysis occurring at the proxy server, the proxy server may modify client-requested data it receives so that a targeted advertisement appears on a web page requested by a client"

So you are changing the data stream Changing the requested data. Lie number 3 Phorm.

SPIN AND MORE SPIN WILL NOT CHANGE THE FACT OF THE PATENT APPLICATION.

And you say you dont collect personal data do you. Er this is what your patent says

"As explained above, the context reader may be configured to more than just keyword and other contextual data pertaining to a given web page. The context reader may also include behavioral data (e.g, browsing behavior), other historical data collected over time, demographic data associated with the user, IP address, URL data, etc."

Note the section

"The context reader may also include behavioral data (e.g, browsing behavior), other historical data collected over time, demographic data associated with the user, IP address, URL data, etc."

Er whats that you say -"you dont collect IP addresses. Your patent says... YOU DO.

You Lie Again Phorm


Home office note on the legality of Phorm
interception.

http://cryptome.org/ho-phorm.htm

@ Bob - even after reading that legal brief by Simon Watkin, there is no way that both the sender and recipient of an email involving a non-Phorm ISP or especially a web email service like hotmail, gmail , yahoo etc. can possibly be asked for, let alone grant, their prior permission for their web page email to be snooped on.

RIPA Part 1 illegal interception of electronic communications still applies - Phorm / BT / Virgin Media management should go to prison for 2 years, for each offence.

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Financial Cryptography - Ian Grigg et al.

UK Liberty - A blog on issues relating to liberty in the UK

Big Brother State - "a small act of resistance" to the "sustained and systematic attack on our personal freedom, privacy and legal system"

HosReport - "Crisis. Conspiraciones. Enigmas. Conflictos. Espionaje." - Carlos Eduardo Hos (in Spanish)

"Give 'em hell Pike!" - Frank Fisher

Corruption-free Anguilla - Good Governance and Corruption in Public Office Issues in the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla in the West Indies - Don Mitchell CBE QC

geeklawyer - intellectual property, civil liberties and the legal system

PJC Journal - I am not a number, I am a free Man - The Prisoner

Charlie's Diary - Charlie Stross

The Caucus House - blog of the Chicago International Model United Nations

Famous for 15 Megapixels

Postman Patel

The 4th Bomb: Tavistock Sq Daniel's 7:7 Revelations - Daniel Obachike

OurKingdom - part of OpenDemocracy - " will discuss Britain’s nations, institutions, constitution, administration, liberties, justice, peoples and media and their principles, identity and character"

Beau Bo D'Or blog by an increasingly famous digital political cartoonist.

Between Both Worlds - "Thoughts & Ideas that Reflect the Concerns of Our Conscious Evolution" - Kingsley Dennis

Bloggerheads: The Alisher Usmanov Affair - the rich Uzbek businessman and his shyster lawyers Schillings really made a huge counterproductive error in trying to censor the blogs of Tim Ireland, of all people.

Matt Wardman political blog analysis

Henry Porter on Liberty - a leading mainstream media commentator and opinion former who is doing more than most to help preserve our freedom and liberty.

HMRC is shite - "dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of the HMRC, who have to endure the monumental shambles that is Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)."

Head of Legal - Carl Gardner a former legal advisor to the Government

The Landed Underclass - Voice of the Banana Republic of Great Britain

Henrik Alexandersson - Swedish blogger threatened with censorship by the Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA), the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishement, their equivalent of the UK GCHQ or the US NSA.

World's First Fascist Democracy - blog with link to a Google map - "This map is an attempt to take a UK wide, geographical view, of both the public and the personal effect of State sponsored fear and distrust as seen through the twisted technological lens of petty officials and would be bureaucrats nationwide."

Blogoir - Charles Crawford - former UK Ambassodor to Poland etc.

No CCTV - The Campaign against CCTV

Barcode Nation - keeping two eyes on the database state.

Lords of the Blog - group blog by half a dozen or so Peers sitting in the House of Lords.

notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

Justin Wylie's political blog

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

Armed and Dangerous - Sex, software, politics, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures… - by Open Source Software advocate Eric S. Raymond.

Georgetown Security Law Brief - group blog by the Georgetown Law Center on National Security and the Law , at Georgtown University, Washington D.C, USA.

Big Brother Watch - well connected with the mainstream media, this is a campaign blog by the TaxPayersAlliance, which thankfully does not seem to have spawned Yet Another Campaign Organisation as many Civil Liberties groups had feared.

Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Other Links

Spam Huntress - The Norwegian Spam Huntress - Ann Elisabeth

Fuel Crisis Blog - Petrol over £1 per litre ! Protest !
Mayor of London Blog
London Olympics 2012 - NO !!!!

Cool Britannia

NuLabour

Free Gary McKinnon - UK citizen facing extradition to the USA for "hacking" over 90 US Military computer systems.

Parliament Protest - information and discussion on peaceful resistance to the arbitrary curtailment of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in the excessive Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square in London.

Brian Burnell's British / US nuclear weapons history at http://nuclear-weapons.info

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Recent Comments

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

Intelligence and Security Committee - the supposedly independent Parliamentary watchdog which issues an annual, heavily censored Report every year or so. Currently chaired by the Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Why should either the intelligence agencies or the public trust this committee, when the untrustworthy ex-Labour Minister Hazel Blears is a member ?

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

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Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

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Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

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Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

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Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

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National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

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Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

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WhistleblowersUK.org - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers