European Commission contends UK over online privacy

According to BBC technology, the UK government has been accused by the European Commission for failing to protect the citizens' privacy.

The European Commission stated that the UK government should have done more to guarantee and secure online privacy when trials of a controversial ad-serving system were carried out back in 2006.

The ad-serving system in question, was tested in 2006 by a company known as Phorm. BT, Talk Talk and Virgin had all signed up to use Phorm, which targets adverts to users based on web habits. A matter which sparked a great deal of argument in 2008 when the Foundation for Information Policy Research argued that the use of the Phorm system was illegal, believing that Phorm contravenes the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000. An act which protects users from unlawful interception of information. Both Phorm and BT said at the time that the technology does not breach any UK laws.

After the European Commission investigated this testing period, it deduced that the government should have done more to guarantee online privacy when trials of the controversial ad-serving system were carried out in 2006. The Commission have now begun the second phase of trials regarding the matter, and the UK government has been warned that if it does not respond to the the criticism satisfactorily, it faces being taken to the European court.

Despite the UK government being satisfied by the trial of Phorm, critics argued that BT's customers who were unwittingly enrolled in it should have had the chance to opt out of the trial. The European Commission have seen this as a sign that UK laws, particularly The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, did not do enough to protect data about the e-mails and web browsing habits of citizens.

"People's privacy and the integrity of their personal data in the digital world is not only an important matter, it is a fundamental right, protected by European law. I therefore call on the UK authorities to change their national laws to ensure that British citizens fully benefit from the safeguards set out in EU law concerning confidentiality of electronic communications," said Viviane Reding, EU telecoms commissioner.

According to the BBC
, The Commission has sent a letter containing its opinion to the UK which now has two months to respond. If the Commission is unsatisfied with the response it could take the case to an EU court and perhaps force a change in UK law. In response a Home Office spokesperson said: "We are firmly committed to protecting users' privacy and data. We are considering the Commission's letter and will respond in due course."

The European Commission's Telecoms page published the following:

"The Commission today moved to the second phase of an infringement proceeding over the UK to provide its citizens with the full protection of EU rules on privacy and personal data protection when using electronic communications. European laws state that EU countries must ensure the confidentiality of people's electronic communications like email or internet browsing by prohibiting their unlawful interception and surveillance without the user's consent. As these rules have not been fully put in place in the national law of the UK, the Commission today said that it will send the UK a reasoned opinion."

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