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25th Jun 2022

EU says UK failing to protect internet users' privacy

The European Commission has threatened to take the UK to court over "structural" failures to guarantee internet users' privacy, in line with European law.

In a formal letter sent from Brussels to London on Tuesday (14 April), the commission gave UK authorities two months to respond to criticism of new web surveillance technology or face legal action at the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

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  • Phorm tells advertisers what internet users have been searching for (Photo: Notat)

The complaint centres around US-based software company Phorm, which uses records of people's surfing activity obtained from internet service providers to help advertisers target customers more accurately.

UK internet provider BT has run tests with Phorm since 2006, prompting a stream of queries from MPs, MEPs, rights groups and citizens. But the technology has been given the all-clear by British regulators.

Phorm also has agreements with UK internet providers Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media.

"What the UK government has done is lackeyed up to business and as a result we've been breaking EU law and now have this infraction proceeding as a result," Open Rights Group director Jim Killock said, cited by the New York Times.

"Phorm's technology is fully compliant with UK legislation and relevant European Union directives," the company said in a statement.

EU privacy laws dating back to 2002 prohibit interception of internet data unless the user gives consent.

"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," EU information commissioner Vivianne Reding said.

"I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal."

Pegasus spyware makers grilled by MEPs

"We will not continue to work with a customer that is targeting a journalist illegally," Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer of NSO Group told MEPs — but shed little light on EU governments' use of its Pegasus spyware.

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