BT, Webwise and Phorm: what you need to know


G

George Orwell

BT, Webwise and Phorm: what you need to know

Would you allow your phone to be tapped or your post opened?
That’s the kind of thing BT want to do with your Internet connection. They are
partnering with a company called Phorm to monitor your web browsing and profile
you so that they can use that information to choose which advertisements to show
you. Phorm were formerly known as 121media, and their products were blacklisted
by at least three anti-virus companies. BT are calling this scheme “Webwise”.

BT wouldn’t do that, would they?
They already have. In 2006 and again in 2007, BT intercepted and read Internet
activity from tens of thousands of their Internet customers in trials of Phorm.
At no time did they ask these customers for their consent. In some instances
they changed data sent by customers to the websites they were visiting.

Surely it must be against the law?
BT say it isn’t, but they have yet to disclose the basis of this claim. The
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 makes many unauthorised
interceptions illegal. Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC
Directive) Regulations 2003 users must give informed consent before a third
party has access to their information. Under the Data Protection Act 1998 users’
personal data has to be kept private and not misused. And the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 may protect web content creators since it makes it an
offence to copy other people’s work.

How can they get away with it?
They won’t if you make it clear that they shouldn’t. BT’s trials of Phorm may
have taken place on computers, yet they are little different from unauthorised
opening of post or tapping telephones. The Information Commissioner agrees that
the European Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 would be
likely to apply to BT’s 2007 trials. But he won’t act, despite the loss of
privacy suffered by tens of thousands of Internet users whose web browsing was
intercepted. The European Commission has been asked to review this. Complaints
have also been made to several police forces about BT’s Phorm trials. All the
evidence from around the country has now been presented to the City of London
Police who are investigating.

Who is affected?
Everyone is at risk. If you are an MP, lawyer, doctor, journalist, business
executive, housewife, mother, teenager, child, office worker or manual worker
using BT home broadband then you are in danger of having your Internet activity
intercepted and used to produce a profile of you.

Can I avoid it?
Maybe not. When BT deploy Phorm, they say they will interrupt your browsing to
ask whoever is using your computer whether they want to be part of it. On their
main Webwise web page, they do not tell you that if you say “yes” then almost
everything you do on the Internet from then on will be intercepted and read. Nor
do they say on any of their Webwise pages whether they plan to check if it’s
you, one of your children, or a visitor to your house who has given consent. And
once it’s switched on, if they do not have a separate login, even your
children’s Internet research for their homework will be profiled.

What can I do?
Write to your MP and ask them to make their opposition to BT’s proposed
Webwise/Phorm scheme public and unequivocal. Specifically, ask them to: Call for
the Information Commissioner to act on breaches of the European Privacy and
Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. Urge the Home Office to direct the
Police to investigate BT’s 2006 and 2007 trials of Phorm. Make it clear that
existing laws on privacy and intellectual property must be enforced fully – and
not watered down – if BT deploy Phorm. And please sign the 10 Downing Street
petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/ispphorm/

Phorm takes consumer privacy protection to a new low
Any interception of your Internet connection, no matter how carefully the data
is handled, increases the risk of your data being stolen and misused. And the
added complexity of the Phorm systems raises the threat from hackers and
fraudsters. Such monitoring may be appropriate for criminal or terrorist
investigations. Using it for commercial gain is entirely unnecessary. Following
intervention by Congress in the USA, similar schemes have been shelved. Isn’t it
now time for the UK to act?
V9 – 16 July 2008

Issued on behalf of NoDPI on 16th July 2008: Web: www.nodpi.org - Email:
(e-mail address removed)

Useful Addresses
Letters to your MP can be addressed to them at House of Commons, London, SW1A
0AA. If you are a BT Home Broadband customer, please also write to them: BT
Chief Executive Mr Ian Livingston BT Group 81 Newgate Street London EC1A 7AJ BT
Complaints Mrs Jillian G Lewis Customer Service Director BT plc Correspondence
Centre Durham DH98 1BT

Contact BT online:
http://bt.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/bt.cfg/php/enduser/cci/bt_contact.php



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