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Police quiz BT on secret Phorm trials

RIPA? Never heard of it officer...

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City of London police questioned BT earlier this week as part of a probe into the covert wiretapping and profiling of the internet use of tens of thousands of BT customers during tests of Phorm's adware system.

City of London CID met BT representatives on Tuesday.

Officers have been examining the dossier of evidence handed to Wood Street police station by campaigners following the 16 July protest against BT's planned full deployment of Phorm's technology. It included the internal documents detailing the 2006 trial, which we reported here.

There's no indication as to whether formal proceedings will be brought. Considerations will include whether it falls within City of London police's remit to investigate crimes that affect the residents or workers of London's financial district, and whether charges would be proportionate and in the public interest.

BT ran a test in September 2006 that sought to target web advertising based on 18,000 of its broadband subscribers' behaviour. The internal report on the two week operation said that its specific aim was to track users without them noticing. A second, similar experiment in summer 2007 tracked tens of thousands more. Since details of BT's actions were revealed by El Reg, more than 17,000 have signed a Downing Street petition calling on authorities to investigate.

A spokeswoman for City of London Police said she was unable to provide any information on Tuesday's meeting because no decision has yet been taken on whether to formally investigate. It is thought senior officers will decide that within two weeks.

BT, which declined to comment today, has said it took legal advice that said running the trials without customer consent was legal. It has not detailed what the advice said, and data law experts have charged that it broke several criminal statutes.

Most notably, an analysis (pdf) by the Foundation for Information Policy Research's legal counsel Nicholas Bohm concluded that the trials had broken the Regulation of Iinvestigatory Powers Act (RIPA) as well as data protection and fraud laws. The Home office's own advice, obtained by BT after it had run the two secret trials, said deployments of Phorm's systems would only be legal under RIPA if consent was obtained from ISP subscribers.

The European Commission is pursuing its own investigation of Phorm's technology and BT's trials, parallel to UK police enquiries. The government this week said it will respond to a Brussels request for an explanation of its apparent failure to enforce privacy directives later this month. ®

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