Remembering Caspar Bowden

By EDRi · July 15, 2015

We are sad to report the death of EDRi member FIPR’s first Director, Caspar Bowden. Caspar was one of the people who met in 1998 to set up the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), in response to the introduction of what later became the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Caspar was FIPR’s Director from 1998-2002, when his main achievement was leading a lobbying campaign against the Bill as it went through Parliament. He secured the “Big Browser” amendment which defined traffic data as the information required to identify the machine participating in a communication; the government had actually wanted it to mean the whole URL that you visit, but Caspar argued forcefully that that would entitle the police to get your search history with a production order rather than requiring a warrant. His early clarification of the boundary between “communications data” and “content” has had a substantial impact on privacy since.

Caspar helped secure a large donation (of GBP100k from Microsoft) which got FIPR’s initial fundraising campaign off to a running start; he also attracted many prominent technology people to FIPR’s advisory council. Caspar was also involved in the discussions that led to the foundation of EDRi.

Caspar moved to Microsoft in 2002 and worked for them for nine years as their Chief Privacy Adviser for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What that actually entailed he described in a talk at the The 31st Chaos Communication Congress (31C3) that is linked at the bottom of this article; he was responsible for briefing and coordinating some of the activities of about forty executives, each of which managed the company’s relationships with some particular country. He pointed out to them that the The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s (FISA Court’s) powers meant that governments entrusting their data to US clouds were giving unfettered access to the US intelligence services. He was subsequently fired.

For the last four years of his life he was a strong critic of US surveillance and the failure of European institutions to do anything effective about it. He was a gifted communicator who could explain complex technical issues around wiretaps, surveillance and cryptography to policy and lay audiences.

The Snowden revelations completely vindicated him. He worked tirelessly to explain their policy significance, providing a rapid and learned response to the disclosures in a major report for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament (LIBE), “The US surveillance programmes and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights”. He was on the board of the Tor project as well as in the FIPR advisory council, and helped to promote the Qubes, a security-focused desktop operating system.

He told friends and colleagues some months before his death that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He is survived by his wife Sandi.

31C3: Caspar Bowden: The Cloud Conspiracy 2008-2014

EU Parliament Report: Impact of NSA Surveillance Programs on EU Citizen’s Fundamental Rights

Pro-privacy titan Caspar Bowden dies after short cancer battle (09.7.2015)

Obituary: Caspar Bowden, privacy campaigner (09.07.2015)

Data Protection Activist Caspar Bowden died (09.07.2015)

Caspar Bowden obituary (13.07.2015)

(Contribution by Ross Anderson, EDRi member FIPR, United Kingdom)