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Government Refuses to Investigate BT's Phorm Trials

Posted: 17th Apr, 2008 By: MarkJ
The Home Office has refused to investigate BT's secret 2006 and 2007 trials of the controversial Phorm system, which works with ISPs to develop targeted advertising campaigns by monitoring the websites you visit.

BT did not gain customer consent for the trials, which conflict with the Home Offices own advice from civil servant Simon Watkin. He claimed that Phorm's deployment may only be legal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) if consent is obtained:

A Home Office spokesman told The Register yesterday that responsibility for infringements of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) lies with the the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

However, the tribunal only has powers to investigate eavesdropping carried out on behalf of law enforcement, not commerce. Its website states: "The tribunal has no jurisdiction to investigate complaints about private individuals or companies unless you believe they are acting on behalf of an intelligence agency, law enforcement body or other public authority covered by RIPA."

Liberal Democrat shadow culture, media and sport secretary Don Foster blasted the Home Office's brick wall stance today. "It is clear the government is completely confused over who has responsibility for this matter. The Information Commissioner's Office and the public have expressed considerable concerns and it is time for the Government to stop passing the buck and deal with the matter immediately. The Home Office needs to step up to the plate and decide whether BT's secret technical tests were legal and, if not, decide what will be done about them."

It's understood that Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is investigating the tests for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, but not the alleged criminal wiretap under RIPA.

Pass the buck syndrome is sadly a very common ailment of those in government, as is a failure to fully comprehend any situation involving something even remotely technical, such as a computer. Check out our 'Phorm News History' for more.
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