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Cops back in on BT/Phorm case

Plods backtrack on tracking of track-pact

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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has called in City of London Police to assist as it decides whether to go to court over BT's covert trials of Phorm's web interception and profiling system.

The City force ran the original criminal investigation into the trials, which saw tens of thousands of BT customers' broadband traffic monitored without their knowledge or consent. The idea of Phorm's technology is to monitor users' behaviour at the ISP level in order to serve them appropriate adverts later. Privacy campaigners consider that this is worse than the tracking cookies already used for such purposes as the user has no visibility of the process and can gain control over it only with the ISP's assistance.

The City of London force declined to discuss its renewed role in the affair today. The CPS said the Square Mile cops have come back on board to assist in ongoing inquiries related to details around its original investigation.

It was claimed by privacy campaigners and legal commentators after The Register revealed the secret trials that BT and Phorm had committed offences under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which restricts covert wiretapping and interception of communications.

A file of evidence was handed to City of London Police, but detectives halted their investigation in September 2008. In a statement they argued that no criminal offence had been committed because they perceived no criminal intent by the two firms.

Subsequently Alex Hanff, now of Privacy International, wrote to the CPS asking for leave to bring a private prosecution, which prompted the current inquiries by prosecutors.

A CPS spokesman today declined to comment on when a decision over prosecution might be taken.

The prosecution service has previously stated that it is considering expert opinions on the matter. The Register understands it has had some of this expert material on file since January. ®

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