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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Digital rights group gets going
People protesting against software patents, AFP/Getty
Some digital rights issues have sparked protests
Plans are being drawn up to create a UK organisation that fights to preserve digital rights and freedoms.

If created, the group would campaign to preserve the freedom people have to use digital media and act as a co-ordinator for other cyber-rights groups.

Already almost 500 people have backed a pledge to regularly donate cash to the organisation to keep it running.

But the plan has been criticised by other net activists who feel there are more pressing problems to tackle.

Cash control

The idea to set up the group emerged at the OpenTech 2005 conference held in London on 23 July.

One panel session at the conference lamented the lack of a UK group that campaigned on net and digital rights issues in the way that the US Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) manages.

Among other campaigns, the EFF has fought entertainment industry attempts to limit what people can do with digital media; given advice to workers that write their own weblogs; and helped shape e-voting policies.

Building on the interest in setting up such a group, net activist Danny O'Brien created a pledge on the Pledgebank website that aims to give the fledgling group a solid financial foundation.

Is this going to be about social exclusion or protecting people that have quite a lot anyway
Gail Bradbrook, Citizens Online
Mr O'Brien is seeking pledges from 1,000 people that they will give 5 per month to keep the group going.

As of the morning of 28 July 449 people have signed the pledge. The deadline to reach the pledge total is 25 December 2005.

With 5,000 per month, the group could pay two workers that could act as campaigners or help to put journalists in touch with experts and digital rights commentators.

Writing about the idea on his blog, Mr O'Brien said: "Just having someone at the end of a phone, handing out quotes and press releases, and pro-actively calling journalists to make sure they know what's going on, putting them in contact with all the other orgs in this area in the UK, is half the work."

The UK and Europe has a collection of small digital rights groups few of which enjoy regular funding. Already in existence are the Campaign for Digital Rights, Foundation for Information Policy Research, No2ID, Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure and Privacy International.

Net losses

However, the plans to set up the digital rights group have been criticised by other digital rights workers.

Gail Bradbrook, director of strategy and partnerships at Citizens Online, said the new group needed a clear, distinct identity if it was to succeed and avoid confusing people about its aims.

"There are all sorts of people working on rights around the internet, ID cards, freedom of speech and so on," she said.

Ms Bradbrook questioned the list of issues that the group could take on and said there was a danger that it would only concentrate on "middle class" issues and debates.

She said there was no doubt that such things were important but there were other issues that needed to be remembered.

"I can get a whole lot more impassioned about the vast number of internet sites that are not accessible for disabled people," said Ms Bradbrook. "That's a fundamental right, to access information on the internet."

"There are people that are fundamentally being left behind and want to get online and they can't," she said, adding that about a third of Britons had never used the net.

"Is this going to be about social exclusion or protecting people that have quite a lot anyway?" she asked.

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