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Brussels bounces BT-Phorm quiz back to UK.gov

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The European Commission has again written to the government for an explanation of UK authorities' response to BT's allegedly illegal secret trials of Phorm's ISP adware system.

Brussels still wants answers after a September missive from Whitehall failed to address legal issues surrounding past deployments of the technology, and didn't provide details about how future rollouts will be regulated.

EU officials originally wrote to the UK at the end of June to find out why no action had been taken over the 2006 and 2007 trials, which were conducted in secret and without customer consent. The European Privacy and Electronic Communications directive demands that customers are given informed prior warning if their communications and data are intercepted or processed in any way.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) eventually replied and released a public statement to say the government believed that Phorm's system could operate within the law in future if conditions for consent and anonymity were met. It did not tackle the interception and profiling of tens of thousands of BT customers' web data that had already occured.

Martin Selmayr, spokesman for commissioner Viviane Reding's Information Society and Media directorate-general told The Register the UK had more questions to answer. "We wrote to them again on the 6th [of October]", he said. "For us the matter is not finished. Quite the contrary."

Responsibility for enforcing the European Privacy and Electronic Communications directive in the UK rests with the Information Commissioner's Office. When The Register uncovered the secret trials it wrote to BT to say it didn't intend to take any action, agreeing with the firm's claim that explaining to subscribers they were being monitored would have been difficult.

Selmayr said the EU's new letter also poses new questions about the detail of the implementation of the ongoing third Phorm trial. BT began inviting customers to use "WebWise" soon after the UK government gave the system its qualified public backing. "The UK's first response gave assurances that consumers will be protected. We are keeping a very close eye on this," he said.

As before, the UK has been given a month to respond.

A spokesman for BERR said the government had not yet received the EU's new letter. "Should we receive such correspondence it will of course receive our full attention," he said. ®

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