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November 10, 2010 | Jim Killock

Phorm Interception consultation released in silence

The Home Office has been forced to take action to change UK law, following the Phorm case, to ensure that citizens are properly protected against private interception.

Phorm attempted to sell technology to BT and other ISPs that intercepted web traffic and digested it to find keywords to create advertising “channels”. When complaints were made, citizens found there was had no official body that would investigate.

The Home Office have this week published a consultation to change RIPA to take account of the EU’s complaints and court action.

Startlingly, the Home Office’s consultation has been issued in breach of guidelines, with a less than the 12 weeks that are expected. Released this week, responses are expected by 7 December: giving citizens and civil society just a month to give their answers. ISPs, with a commercial interest at stake, have however been fully informed, we are told.

To make matters worse, the consultation is not linked to from the Home Office consultation page, nor is it being publicized in any way.

The consultation is about a very serious matter. What rights should we have as citizens to take legal action against people who intercept our communications? Should criminal as well as civil charges be available? Who should investigate?

This is the latest incident a series of Home Office botches regarding Phorm. During the Phorm trials, they gave incorrect legal advice to BT and Phorm stating that the interception their system involved was legal. Officials then denied that their advice was in fact legal advice. Home Office officials then failed to ensure that action was taken when it demonstrated that illegal trials took place.

They failed to take action when Vivian Reding threatened legal action in 2009 – despite reviews of RIPA taking place under Labour and the coalition. Now they have finally been forced to take action, and they have brushed the review under the carpet, with inadequate time for consultation.

The Coalition promised to protect our privacy against the surveillance state: they now need to get a grip of Home Office officials before further botches are made.

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