The European Commission is investigating behavioural advertising company Phorm and has revealed plans to sue the UK government for an alleged breach of data protection laws caused by the firm.
Phorm is used by internet service providers (ISPs) to track consumer internet activity for marketing purposes. Telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has demanded a change in UK law so that interception and surveillance without a user’s consent is prohibited.
Last year, BT admitted it had tested the technology in 2006 and 2007 without informing customers involved in the trial. The trails raised a number of complaints to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and UK police.
However, the technology was later cleared by the ICO, on the condition that consumers opted into the service. The commission believes that UK law must now be strengthened to ensure that users are asked to give consent before their data is intercepted.
Under UK law, it is illegal to unlawfully intercept communications – but the scope of this offence is limited to ‘intentional’ interception .
Reding said The European Commission had been following the Phorm case for some time and has concluded that there are problems in the way the UK has implemented parts of EU rules on confidentiality of communications.
The UK has two months to reply and may be issued a ‘reasoned opinion’ from the commission after that time. If this fails, it could be taken to the European Court of Justice and forced to change the law.