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Monday, 22 September 2008 20:11

Bad Phorm: UK Police give green light to Internet spying

BT is off the hook over those secret spying trials it conducted without bothering to inform, or should that be inphorm, customers about them until it was caught red handed. It looks like a very bad day for privacy, and a very good one for the monitoring of online user activity without consent.

According to The Register City of London Police detectives have closed the investigation into the secret BT trials of web spying Phorm technology.

The official reason, it would seem, is that to continue would be a waste of public money as BT customers had given 'implied consent' to the trials. Really? You try telling them that.

There is still, of course, some hope for justice here as the EU is still waiting for an official response from the UK Government to its questioning before deciding if there is sufficient evidence to start proceedings for a breach of European Data Protection laws.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Barry Murray of the City of London Police has written to one of the leading anti-Phorm campaigners.

The email is quoted by El Reg and states that "it has been decided that no Criminal Offence has been committed" and there was a "lack of Criminal Intent on behalf of BT and Phorm Inc in relation to the tests."

The best bit, though, is the revelation that BT customers would have given implied consent to being spied upon without their knowledge because the aim of the tests was to enhance product quality.

So, and allowing for the fact that I am not a lawyer, does this mean that any company can effectively flout the law as long as it does so in the name of product development?

It does rather make you wonder why the UK has the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), part of which deals with the necessary authority required for wiretapping, when it is apparently so easy to skirt around it.

Then again, perhaps that's the point. After all, if the UK Government can pick and choose when data protection and privacy can be sacrificed for the greater good, then why not the corporate sector as well.

Let us hope that, for once, the European Commission has a little more sense, and a bit more bite, when it comes to dealing with Phorm.

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