EU Probes UK Over Internet Privacy

    April 14, 2009

The European Commission said on Tuesday it is taking legal action against the United Kingdom for not adequately protecting the privacy of British Internet users.

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said the action had to do with how Internet service providers used Phorm technology to send users targeted ads based on the sites they visited.

"Technologies like Internet behavioral advertising can be useful for businesses and consumers but they must be used in a way that complies with EU rules. These rules are there to protect the privacy of citizens and must be rigorously enforced by all Member States," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Viviane Reding
Viviane Reding

"We have been following the Phorm case for some time and have concluded that there are problems in the way the UK has implemented parts of EU rules on the confidentiality of communications."

In April 2008, BT admitted it had tested Phorm in 2006 and 2007 without telling its customers involved in the trail.

After criticism from privacy groups, BT conducted an invitation-based trial of Phorm in the fourth quarter of 2008 that led to a number of complaints, the Commission said.

Reding said Internet users in Britain had complained about the way the UK enforced EU rules on privacy and electronic communications that were put in place to prevent interception and surveillance with a user’s permission.

The EU said it is concerned by UK law that says interception is legal when the service provider had reasonable grounds to believe consent had been given. The Commission is also concerned that the UK does not have an independent national supervisory authority dealing with interceptions.

The UK has two months to respond to the Commission.