The European Commission has started legal action against Britain, claiming the country is allowing Internet service providers to target users by letting the companies use technology that accesses personal data.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission started legal action
against Britain on Tuesday for what the EU executive called a failure
to keep people's online details confidential.
EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said the action related to
how Internet service providers used Phorm technology to send
subscribers tailor-made advertisements based on websites visited.
Britain has two months to respond to the charges, a Commission spokesman said.
BT admitted in April last year that it had tested Phorm in 2006 and 2007 without telling its customers, the Commission said.
The trials sparked "snooping" accusations from privacy groups and
concern from the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, but
found support from UK telecoms regulator Ofcom.
Phorm told Reuters earlier this month it was delighted with the
trials it had held in Britain and that it was in talks on further
international expansion through joint ventures and did not fear
Reding said Internet users in Britain had complained about the way
the UK applied EU rules on privacy and electronic communications that
were meant to prohibit interception and surveillance without the user's
"Technologies like Internet behavioral advertising can be useful for
businesses and consumers but they must be used in a way that complies
with EU rules," Reding said in a statement.
"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 the EU rules on the confidentiality of communications," Reding
BT carried out new, invitation-based trials of Phorm in the final
quarter of 2008 that resulted in a number of complaints, the Commission
Phorm has said it is in talks with two other British Internet
service providers, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse, and has
launched a South Korean trial.
The European Union executive said it was concerned that under UK
rules, interception was lawful when the service provider had reasonable
grounds to believe consent had been given.
"The Commission is also concerned that the UK does not have an
independent national supervisory authority dealing with such
interceptions," the Commission said.
Reding called on Britain to change its national laws to ensure there were proper sanctions to enforce EU confidentiality rules.
Unless Britain complies, Reding has the power to issue a final
warning before taking the country to the 27-nation EU's top court, the
European Court of Justice.
If it rules in favor of the European Commission, the court can force Britain to change its laws.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)
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