More calls for BT Phorm ban

BT must be stopped from deploying technology that uses people’s personal internet communications to make money from advertisers, the government was told this week.Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokeswoman, asked in the Lords for the government to delay the rollout of interception-based online advertising until its legality had been established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

She told Computer Weekly that Ofcom, the Information Commissioner, the Home Office and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) were all passing the buck. Phorm could normalise a level of snooping not even attempted by the Home Office’s stalled Interception Modernisation Programme. Other ministers have praised Phorm for its enterprise.

Opponents of the Phorm deep packet inspection technology brand it illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said Phorm breached a fundamental principle of the internet: that the lower TCP/IP stacks were as sacred as the contents of people’s written letters.

Phorm CEO Kent Ertugrul accused critics, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, at a Parliamentary side meeting, of “neo-Luddite entrenchment”. He claimed Phorm used technology to fix the same privacy problem it created. US Congress has already called a halt on interception advertising.

Richard Clayton, a Cambridge academic who has analysed Phorm’s system, said it was entirely illegal.

City police refused to prosecute BT for its Phorm trials last year. The CPS is considering whether to allow a private prosecution. Phorm might be permitted by section 3.3 of RIPA, which allows interception of communications without a warrant when necessary for the provision of a telecoms or postal service.

Mark Ballard