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FIPR Accuses Home Office of Misleading Phorm Advice

Posted: 24th Apr, 2008 By: MarkJ
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has released the text of an open letter to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, on the legality of Phorm Inc's proposal to provide targeted advertising by snooping on Internet users' web browsing.

FIPR calls on the Home Secretary to withdraw her department's previous statement because it has become incomplete and misleading in the light of new technical and legal analysis of Phorm's system, describing it as "an obstacle to the just enforcement of the law".

The letter explains that a technical note by Dr Richard Clayton, FIPR's Treasurer, and a legal analysis by Nicholas Bohm, its General Counsel, show that operation of Phorm's system involves the following:

  1. interception of communications, an offence contrary to section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

  2. fraud, an offence contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006

  3. unlawful processing of sensitive personal data, contrary to the Data Protection Act 1998
FIPR warns that UK ISPs could be held criminally liable for their use of Phorm and that the advise offered must be adjusted:

We therefore urge you to make it clear to Phorm, to such ISPs as may have consulted the Home Office, to the Information Commissioner, and to chief officers of police:

  • that the Home Office does not condone illegal interception for the purposes of targeted online advertising

  • that the law is for the courts and not for the Home Office to decide, and that it is for the police and prosecuting authorities to investigate reports of crime and make decisions about prosecutions without deferring to the views of the Home Office, and

  • that where complaints under the Data Protection Act are concerned, it is for the Information Commissioner and not the Home Office to investigate whether the data processing involved in targeted online advertising amounts to illegal interception.

The full letter can be read here:
http://www.fipr.org/080423holetter.pdf (PDF)
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