|foundation for information policy research|
Open Letter to the IC on the legality of Phorm's advertising system
RELEASE: 17 March 2008
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has today released the text of an open letter to Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner (IC) on the legality of Phorm Inc's proposal to provide targeted advertising by snooping on Internet users' web browsing.
The controversial Phorm system is to be deployed by three of Britain's largest ISPs, BT, Talk Talk and Virgin Media. However, in FIPR's view the system will be processing data illegally:
More significantly, the Phorm system will be "intercepting" traffic within the meaning of s1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). In order for this to be lawful then permission is needed from not only the person making the web request BUT ALSO from the operator of the web site involved (and if it is a web-mail system, the sender of the email as well).
FIPR believes that although in some cases this permission can be assumed, in many other cases, it is explicitly NOT given -- making the Phorm system illegal to operate in the UK:
The full text of the open letter can be viewed at:
Said Nicholas Bohm, General Counsel, FIPR:
"The need for both parties to consent to interception in order for it to be lawful is an extremely basic principle within the legislation, and it cannot be lightly ignored or treated as a technicality. Even when the police are investigating as serious a crime as kidnapping, for example, and need to listen in to conversations between a family and the criminals, they must first obtain an authorisation under the relevant Act of Parliament: the consent of the family is not by itself sufficient to make their monitoring lawful."
Said Richard Clayton, Treasurer, FIPR:
"The Phorm system is highly intrusive -- it's like the Post Office opening all my letters to see what I'm interested in, merely so that I can be sent a better class of junk mail. Not surprisingly, when you look closely, this activity turns out to be illegal. We hope that the Information Commissioner will take careful note of our analysis when he expresses his opinion upon the scheme."
Nicholas Bohm General Counsel, FIPR 01279 870285 nbohm AT ernest.net
Richard Clayton Treasurer, FIPR 01223 763570 07887 794090 treasurer AT fipr.org
NOTES FOR EDITORS
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