back to article BT's secret Phorm trials open door to corporate eavesdropping

The government has refused to investigate BT's covert wiretapping of thousands of its customers in 2006 and 2007, despite its own expert's view that without consent Phorm's advertising targeting technology is a breach of criminal law. Whitehall's willingness to turn a blind eye to the fact that tens of thousands of people were …


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  1. Neil Greatorex

    This just gets worse

    Government refusing to act?

    Usual story.

    It might be a completely different story if we knew which MP's were caught in the trials.

    "Mr Speaker, is the Prime Minister aware of the recent illegal Phorm/BT trials?"

    Insert noise of unruly rabble here...

    "Well he should, as he was included, as was the Foreign Minister".

    Heh, one can but dream.

  2. bobbles31

    Sad but true!

    It seems that its time for a fundamental change to the system of governance in this country. The current system just doesn't work anymore.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm voting Liberal

    I have always up to now supported the Labour party. I now think that the Liberals are a more trusted party since they seem to have the only pro active MP's on this very important matter. Labours ineffectiveness in this matter loses them my Vote. Confusion reigns supreme Gordon Brown. Get a grip and show that nobody is above the law!

    Phorm is Illegal!

  4. lansalot


    > "I'm absolutely sickened and appalled," Pete John, who has tried to interest authorities, told The Register this week.

    Get a grip, I told Pete John this week. With all that goes on in the world, if that's the kind of thing that sickens and appalls you then I'm surprised you have the wherewithall to get out of bed in the morning.

    That said, keep up the good fight (when you've got your health back, naturally :)) !

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like our politicians can get on with doing something useful...

    The Tribunal's remit excludes it from acting. "ICO say the Home Office. The Police say the Home Office. The Home Office say they have no investigative role".

    If the politicians are serious ( but, hey, we know they aren't) they'd investigate in a Parliamentary committee and then NTBs into the future. Other than prison and punative damages there is little that can be done about the past now but the bleeders need to be stopped from taking the mick in future.

    Can BT, Phorm and the rest be nailed under trading standards legislation?

  6. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    @This just gets worse

    If they have BT Broadband, then there is a bloody good chance they were.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Cop Out or corruption?

    Can we start taking bets on how long it is before certain key people in government departments that seem to muddying the waters on purpose jump ship and join Phorm?

    That bloody "Consent" thing keeps coming up.

    I run websites - I DO NOT give consent for phorm (and BT, Talk Talk or Virgin) permission to intercept my traffic.

    Mabye if a lot of website owners blacklisted the entire BT, Talk Talk and Virgin IP address ranges so they get a message that says something like "Your ISP is a leeching parasitic scum merchant who would sell his granny for a snort of Cocaine" they might get the message?

    Actually even better - a redirect so that they get a page full of the nasty truth about Phorm and then topped up with choice keywords would be good (it would certainly screw up the Phorm profilers.) before they get to the actual website.

  8. Ash

    No more writing letters.

    Anyone willing to put their name on the line and march on Parliament? Peaceful protest my left ass cheek; Through the doors and into the PM's private chambers, so he knows just HOW pissed off the informed public are.

    Anonymous? No point. They can track it all anyway.

  9. The Other Steve

    Me to :(

    I have an extremely dismissive letter from Tony McNulty which more or less says "It's not my problem. It's the ISPs responsibility to make sure they don't breach RIPA"

    I'm drafting a suitably worded reply, but it's taking a while, since I'm having difficulty framing a sentence without using the phrase "greasy shiteweasel".

    As of today, sadly, the position seems to be that public bodies can breach RIPA, in which case they'll be investigated, but this will never come about since everything they do that's covered by RIPA will have been rubberstamped (see Reg passim), that individuals can breach RIPA, in which case inspector knacker will stuff them in chokey for five years, and that corporations can breach RIPA and no one will give a flying fuck.

    Fortunately, I can't see this position lasting long, there's to much for the opposition parties and the tabloids to get their teeth into. I mean come one, NuLabour allows big corps to trample over "terrorism"* legislation is a big stick with which to beat an already embattled Prime Minister.

    So, on with the fight. The failtrain is still en route, it's just delayed by red tape on the line.

    *I know, it actually has very little to do with terrorism, but no one tell the Daily Mail that just yet, eh ?

  10. Anonymous Coward

    A new RFC is needed ...

    Putting an MD5 hash for every page a server creates in the HTTP header. Clients could perform a matching hash, and if they don't match refuse to display the page. I'm sure Amazon and eBay would be thrilled to know customers were unable to view their pages because of phorm injected crap .....

  11. Anonymous Coward

    This is great news, they've just made themselves liable.

    Anyone who has had any kind of response from the Home Office, hang on to it. Could come in handy as evidence. Now the Home Office are involved, they have brought the matter within the scope of a Judicial Review. Fatal error. We've just seen how Judicial Reviews feel about the government illegally granting impunity to private corporations in the matter of SFO vs BAE - and they do not like it.

    Didja know it only costs £100 to apply for a Judicial Review?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We need something else

    huge letters in The Sun shouting:


    That would be enough to stop that shit going. If all those unwashed start shouting government will not be able to just put a blind eye to it.

    My 2p.

  13. b

    No reply from the home office

    I've still not had a reply from the home office about this.

    I'm genuinely at a loss as to why this is being ignored.

  14. GettinSadda

    I have no words!

    There are no words that I can find that express how rotten this makes the the country look!

    I think I'll pack my bags and move to Zimbabwe - it's starting to look like they have a more moral and trustworthy government.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tow the line

    I wrote to my MP (Celia Barlow (Lab)) a few weeks ago to ask for her support against this technology. Her reply is below:

    "Phorm Programs, Open Internet Exchange (OIX) and Webwise are designed solely for advertising, and increased privacy settings. Phorm's ad serving technology uses anonymised data, and does not store any personally identifiable information or IP addresses. The use of OIX and Webwise is voluntary, and as a mother of 3 children, I too am concerned about privacy and monitoring their internet use.

    I have passed on your concerns to Michael Wills, Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice. I hope the Minister will be able to provide you with further information. I will write again once I have received a reply."

    According to my MP tows the party line on all issues. So I would assume that the above text is consistent with Government feeling. It's nice to see that a new, and additional, method of intercepting private communication can increase privacy. I would have thought that was logically impossible but maybe that is why I am not a leader of people.

  16. dervheid


    It's being "ignored" because;

    a) There's a LOT of money involved, and / or

    b) Someone (maybe more then one) senior in the Home Office / ICO / Ofcom / Media are in this up to their mucky little neck(s).

    Like you, I'm baffled why this hasn't hit the tabloids (see post above yours, then refer to 'b' above!!).

    Looks like a snoopers charter.

    We're all FUCKED!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    £100 for a judicial review? Please, where can I contribute.

    Yes. I am serious. Unlike our elected representatives.

    "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

    Oh yes. We thought he was serious too. Now we know better.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    dont forget florences latest email from Simon Watkin HO 15-04-2008

    Chris it need verifying OC, but dont forget florences latest email with permission from Simon Watkin HO 15-04-2008.

    ill leave it to florence to post her views on this matter, as im sure she will be reading this latest news theres a link posted as always to your indepth coverage..

    shame the other news outlets dont get their purpose is to inform and investigate, not re-post pre-made PR stories to get the front page counts up....

    it seems though, Simon Watkin is on our side, and has been taken out of context by the ISP's, Kurt and the many Phorm/webwise PR teams to make their pimping users copyrighted datastreams for profit projects as profitable as possible.

    shame their piracy of user datastreaming piramid scam is falling through the floor looking at the latest market share prices ;)

    to reiterate, Simon Watkin makes it cristal clear:

    "Simon Watkin HO:it wasn't, and didn't purport to be, based upon a detailed

    technical examination of any particular technology. "

    "Simon Watkin HO:As much as we were saying was, that in relation to RIPA, we considered it

    **may** be possible for such services to be offered lawfully - but it all

    depends on how they are offered and how they work."

    "Simon Watkin HO:It's not a ruling. It's not advice. It's not a legal opinion. It's a view

    and - repeating myself - all it says is it **may** be possible for such

    services to be offered lawfully."

  19. Paul Gomme

    Don't know why we're surprised...

    This government knows nothing about data protection or protecting privacy. I'm one of 25 million people who had their personal details lost by the government, and have had one letter to say it happened (like we didn't know this already!). No apology, no compensation. And let's not forget about the other recent losses - all taken place without any basic security being applied to the data.

    Of course, I may be being totally cynical, but I'm sure ex-ministers sitting on BT's board won't have ANY bearing on the government's (in)decision to act...

  20. Oliver Freeman

    Pass the parcel

    Its good to see that the register is still on the case and its good to see lib-dem MP Don Foster is staying closely in touch with all that is going on. This ridiculous (deliberately obstructive?) game of pass the parcel between the ICO, Home Office, Police etc needs to stop. Potentially thousands of criminal offences have been committed in the secret trials of 2006 and 2007 and its time the Home Office did its job and moved to uphold the laws of the land.

    If they wont do so then maybe they can be so bold as to point us to a single parliamentary act that they passed giving either BT or Phorm immunity from prosecution? If they cant then they should damn well do what they are paid to do and instruct the police to launch a criminal investigation.

    In the mean time here is a link to a new term I have added to urban dictionary "terra-phorming":

  21. Anonymous Coward

    so what

    Targetted advertising - Sounds great. whats the big deal?? So they monitor your inernet use etc, only people with sometihng to hide would mind as far as I am concerned.....

  22. Eponymous Cowherd
    Black Helicopters

    Is anyone genuinely surprised........

    that a government that views tracking and spying on the people it is *supposed* to be serving as its most important function supports Phorm.

    The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if HM Gov views Phorm as a nice, convenient, way of spying on us that they don't have to pay (much) for.

    I also wonder if Phorm has been 'in talks' with HM Gov in just this regard.

    It would go a *long* way to explain the lack of concern about this from the Home Office and ICO and why BT and Virgin are pushing ahead with this despite the public's outrage.

  23. Alfazed

    The last time we incubated anything

    It would appear that, if BT, or anyone else passed your information to another company without your knowledge or agreement, then your argument is with BT for breach of contract.

    So, why anyone with a choice in the matter still signs up for a BT service totally beats me. At the end of the day, you get what you deserve for not being more discerning in the first place.

    And if Virgin tries this caper, as was proposed, then my internet connection will be terminated, and it's back to POTS for this end user and my business, until legislation is evident that will protect my business from industrial espionage.

    Which is how I consider this little invasion of privacy by Phorm and BT.

    You know it, you are either trust worthy or you bloody well ain't.


  24. b

    £100 for a judicial review

    Seriously? Where do we pay up?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Write to MPs

    Write to your MPs again but this time put in that there is a local election coming up and if you don't do something about it instead of spouting the same crap as everyone else you won't get my vote.

  26. James Anderson

    Dont vote for the b***ds

    This is typically Britsh. You moan and moan about the council, hte government the opposition your MP and then you vote them in again!

    Break the cycle! Vote against the status quo.

    This means NOT voting Labour or Tory and except in exceptional cases the dear old lib dems (they wont mind thye never expected annyone to vote for them anyway.

    My vote goes to the Monster Raving Loony candidate as being most representitive of my contempt for the current pretend democracy.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >The government has refused to investigate [...] a breach of criminal law.

    Quite right, the police investigate breaches of criminal law.

    So, you phoned up the police and they said "Nah, can't be arsed.."?

    That suprises you? Never spoken to them before then?

  28. Eponymous Cowherd

    Re: so What

    So why post as AC? What have *you* got to hide?

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Time to 'police' ourselves

    I am not suggesting mob policing - just gently silent protests.

    For those who object to having their browsing intercepted - change ISP.

    BT's broadband pages are full of how they protect customers from AdWare - not true. Is this enough to invalidate their contract with you. I would argue the case if I were with BT.

    For webmasters - big warning messages for all BT IP addresses + any other addresses that are tied into profilers from anywhere in the world. I don't earn any income from USA visitors anyway so warn them all.

    The Sun will never do anything - look who pays for its advertising space.

    Not too sure who owns the local press - the reporters can't all be such fools (Weston-super-Mare excluded from this rant). Maybe they charge BT et al enough for advertising space to cover all the costs of weekly printing so dare not say anything that could risk that income.

    Next week I will see what I can get into the school's weekly rag. Even a circulation of 500 is better than none.

    The internet is more powerful than this - use it. Because some of us care and have not been blinded nor made dumb.

    Mine is the power jacket: power to the people.

  30. Spleen

    Re: Ash

    Yeah, because protest marches worked for the anti-Iraq demonstrations and the anti-hunt-ban demonstrations, which I believe were the largest demonstrations in British history. Demonstrations do not work as an expression of opinion, only as a threat of violence, and British people, unlike, say, the French, aren't currently capable of the latter. This is because the government doesn't give two s---s about what you think, only about its survival.

    The good news is that BT and Phorm are private companies (in the narrow sense, not the share ownership sense), so unlike Iraq, we do at least have something of a say in the matter. Change your ISP, and if you don't want your website's traffic intercepted, block access from ISPs that use them.

  31. Joanne Connors

    EU time

    I'm about to email Viviane Reding, who is the European Commissioner for Information, informing her that the British Government are refusing to act in blatant cases of illegal interception.

  32. Oliver Freeman

    working link...

    My link to the urban dictionary entry was borked. Doh. Heres a working one:

  33. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Release the hounds

    For more detail see this site:

    Judicial review is the procedure by which you can seek to challenge the decision, action or failure to act of a public body such as a government department or a local authority or other body exercising a public law function. If you are challenging the decision of a court, the jurisdiction of judicial review extends only to decisions of inferior courts. It does not extend to decisions of the High Court or Court of Appeal. Judicial review must be used where you are seeking:

    * a mandatory order (i.e. an order requiring the public body to do something and formerly known as an order of mandamus);

    * a prohibiting order (i.e. an order preventing the public body from doing something and formerly known as an order of prohibition); or

    * a quashing order (i.e. an order quashing the public body's decision and formerly known as an order of certiorari)

    * a declaration

    * HRA Damages

    Claims will generally be heard by a single Judge sitting in open Court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. They may be heard by a Divisional Court (a court of two judges) where the Court so directs.

    A fee of £50.00 is payable when you lodge your application for permission to apply for Judicial Review. A further £180.00 is payable if you wish to pursue the claim after permission is granted (Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2004).

    NB - If you are in receipt of certain types of benefits you may be entitled to exemption/remission of any fee due.

  34. Luther Blissett

    Corruption at BT? - Stratis Scleparis left his position as Chief Technology Officer at BT to join Phorm after the 2007 trial. Public defence of BT's position is then undertaken by Emma Sanderson of BT Retail.

    Subsequently Ben Verwaayen (apparently much respected by BT insiders) resigns as chief executive. The BT board shoo-in Ian Livingston, formerly Finance Director - and old head of BT Retail.

    It has since been alleged that the trials of 2007, which were kept secret from both BT customers and BT support staff, were performed without a contract having been entered into between BT and Phorm; that at the time Phorm was still 121Media; that the results of the trial were used to populate Phorm's database.

    The allegations, if true, suggest at that persons at BT failed in due diligence over the 2007 trial, which may have been run without the knowledge of the BT board, and specifically the then chief executive. That data which is the property of BT may have been illicitly transferred to Phorm. That persons at BT may have conspired to act illicitly. That they may have been corruptly induced to do so.

    Will the competent authorities investigate these matters?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tabloid comments

    I just hope if it does hit the tabloids it isnt represented in an untruthful manner, more lies about it will not help.

    To those of you that say its about whether you have something to hide, its not! If you believe everyone should be open about everything tear down your curtains and give all your neighbours binoculars to watch your every move.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Legal Begal my Ar*e

    So the government asks ISP's to help police the net, in exchange for ignoring them breaking the law with this new advertising scam, they all get rich and less P2P traffic on their networks cause they busy grassing us all up for crimes that have no pysical bearing on our society, Does Gorden Brown/labour ever think of anything else but the economy?

    Paris has more common sense then our MP's

  37. Ash

    £100 for Judicial Review?

    Why has this not been done already? £100 is hardly breaking the bank.

    Hell, i'd pay for it myself if I knew what it was and how to do it properly!

  38. The Jon

    @so what - anonymous coward

    I know your post is flame bait, but once Phorm has invaded everything you surf, try explaining to your kids why they get adverts for viagra and hot milf hardcore gangbang on gamesmate because Phorm has skimmed these key words from your spam infested yahoo / hotmail account which you access once a week to clear down.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    European courts

    Not being spied on is a basic human right, there's a European Court of Human Rights. If the British government refuses to uphold the law, that's the next step.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A variation of an old joke

    It’s a variation of an old joke: Tap the Internet connection of one person and you’re a nosey relative; tap the Internet connection of ten people and you’re an illegal private investigator; tap the Internet connection of 38,000 people and you’re big business.

    The government needs to get its act together, and fast. This harms customer confidence, which harms the economy. This harms the confidence of those outside the country looking to do business with us. If there is no way to bring BT to account, then every company across the country can, from today, start intercepting voice and data communications at will.

  41. David
    Black Helicopters

    When the music stops, you're the one who has to deal with phorm...

    What a surptise, this has been a whitewashing of concerns by every interested party. BT and phorm tell us this thing won't invade privacy, but give us conflicting reasons as to why not, at the FAQ session Simon Davies acknowledges that the big issue is legality, but then asks everyone not to talk about it, and now HMG (Who I've suspected always wanted this kind of access) won't take action on it.

    It's the ISP's responsibility to make sure they don't break RIPA? That may be, but it's sure as hell this governments responsibility to intervene when they do! This is farcical, if it had been a teenager downloading a few songs that the BPI had asked them to investigate then you can guarantee they would've been knocking down his bedroom door before you could say "hasty search warrant", but because it's the citizens (who MP's are supposed to represent) complaining against big business, nothing gets done! I guess we know who makes the bigger campaign contributions!

    PS, why no coverage of the phorm Q&A session?

    Helicopter because, well, look around.

  42. Eponymous Cowherd

    And now the good news.

    Phorm's share price has plunged to 1275p.

  43. TrishaD


    Exactly so.....

    Cant be bothered with big business

    Cant be bothered with crime in the streets

    Cant be bothered to secure our personal information

    Socialism (you know, the sort of stuff the Labour Party used to believe in) used to run on the basis of 'Do what we tell you and we'll see you're looked after'. Like that or not, it was consistent.

    New Labour's version? 'Do what we tell you and we'll crap all over you anyway' .....

    But of course, resources of law enforcement agencies cannot possibly be diverted from essential tasks like shooting random Brazilians and safeguarding us from the worldwide Islamist terrorist movement, can they?

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @so what

    The only people doing the hiding is Phorm. They omit when ever they can to mention they wrote spyware and rootkits (under 121 Media).

    Since they have wrote rootkits and all sort of PC nasties, don't want these sort of people having access to all my online data. They made their money effectively from spyware.

    Phorm - just say NO!

  45. Eponymous Cowherd

    Re:£100 for Judicial Review?

    The only way to beat Phorm is with *organised* protests and legal action. All of the current 'pressure groups' are no more than rant shops.

    What is needed is someone with PR skill and/or legal training to head up a *real* anti-Phorm organisation that we can support with real money. I would gladly stump up, say, £100 a month to fight this obscenity, and I'm sure many others would, too.

    Once you have an organisation with real power (i.e. money) then you can really lay into Phorm. Legal action, full page newspaper ads, mailshots to Phormed ISP customers, intense lobbying of MPs.

    Unfortunately I have no PR experience, little legal experience and absolutely no idea how to go about setting up such an organisation (would it be a charity?) Anyone care to step forward???

  46. Anonymous Coward


    " Peaceful protest my left ass cheek; Through the doors and into the PM's private chambers, so he knows just HOW pissed off the informed public are."

    If you dont want to be nailed to the tower, you could always vent on an invovled companies property.. be that in there car park or on the side of a van...

  47. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Judicial review - How to apply


  48. George Johnson
    Thumb Up

    As I have maintained all along...

    (Tin foil hat on and special flamebait shirt done up!)

    Most people use those bloody insidious supermarket loyalty cards, which in my opinion are the biggest excuse for a private company to gather personal information. TESCO, whom I believe have one of the largest customer spending habit databases in the country, but no one minds using the cards and getting their tiny little prize of a fiver off their shopping, at the end of the year do they? Before you start bleating about Phorm/BT, double check your wallet and make sure your shredding your waste paper too!

    Until Joe Public actually hears anything about this, this is simply going to be a big shouting match in a quiet little geek corner. Want to make a difference? Simply tell everyone you know who is on the internet in some form or other, that basically their credit info and personal details will sold off to some ad agency in about 6 months time, unless they kick BT/VM/TT up the arse to demand Phorm be removed ASAP. Oh and ask people to stop using those nasty little loyalty cards while you're at it!

  49. Andy ORourke

    Oh Dear

    "The tribunal has no jurisdiction to investigate complaints about private individuals or companies unless you believe they are acting on behalf of an intelligence agency, law enforcement body or other public authority covered by RIPA."

    Do I read that right, Private individuals and companies are exempt from RIPA unless they are acting on behalf of a law enforcement agency?

    well, thats all right then, I thought they were breaking the law when all the time it didnt apply to them.

    I am moving house soon and going to change to one of the phorm free ISP's, once they go to phorm I'll move again until there are no more Phorm free ISP's.

    Make no mistake this is going to go ahead, too much at stake for the businesses involved to let it phail, mores the pity!

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Royal Mail

    So the Royal Mail are allowed to open your post after all, as long as they are doing it to steal money from childrens birthday cards then it is allowed, as long as they are not a law enforcement agency... Who wants my vote? im giving in...


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