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Comment : UK Gov Cannot Ignore European Commission Over Phorm

Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information society and media, said it loud and clear in her weekly video message. Europeans, including Brits, have the right to control how their personal information is used.

She added that European privacy rules are "crystal clear": your information can only be used with your prior consent. The dig is clearly directed at the government tacit approval of Phorm, the very controversial behavioral ad targeting solution which was trialled as early as 2006 in the UK without the consent of BT's test customers.

Reding added that Europeans cannot give up the basic principle of prior consent and have their exchanges "monitored, surveyed and stored in exchange for a promise of more relevant advertising". BT's Webwise, the consumer face of Phorm in the UK, promises to increase your protection against online fraud "by checking the sites you visit against a list of suspected fraudulent and untrustworthy websites".

The British government could find itself in hot waters after possibly breaking The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

Speaking to Computeractive, Privacy expert Richard Clayton, said that the EU could "force UK authorities to comply" after a grace period of 60 days, adding that "The EU has concluded that the Phorm system's snooping is unlawful interception because permission has not been obtained from both the user and the website owner."

As the European Commissioner notes, UK has failed to answer pressing questions over structures in place to protect consumers privacy.

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Our Comments

Obvious questions can be asked as to the commitment of the current government to protecting the privacy of its citizens. Last week, the government duly implemented the European Commission's directive over data retention for email and web traffic for 12 months without flinching. Could it be a pick and choose policy where the authorities accept or reject systems, laws and solutions that are advantageous to their ends.

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