back to article CPS: We won't prosecute over BT/Phorm secret trials

The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed today that it would not be prosecuting anyone in BT's secret trials of Phorm's web monitoring system. "We have decided not to consent to a request from an individual to begin a prosecution of BT Group Plc and Phorm Inc in relation to alleged unlawful interception of internet browsing …


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  1. Jonathan Walsh
    Thumb Down

    Ignorance is bliss or not

    So ignorance of a law is no defence, but a general misunderstanding (which seems pretty much the same thing) of the law is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Does this mean a defence of 'I stopped being a serial killer just as soon as someone explained that I had genuinely misunderstood the law.' is now acceptable in court?

    2. John G Imrie

      The difference between Ignorance and Misunderstanding

      Ignorance of the law is when you did not know what you where doing was illegal.

      Misunderstanding the law is when you thought no one would notice that what you where doing was illegal.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Whereas Mens Rea where you KNOW what you are doing is wrong, but think it might not technically be illegal...

    3. lpopman

      titular thingy

      To be fair, I think if the government hadn't told either company that what they were doing was legal, then the CPS would have proceeded with this. Government tied their hands from the outset.

      That said, I really do wish that BT and Phorm could be prosecuted, but sadly, we were let down by our surveillance society government :/

      1. Vic


        > if the government hadn't told either company that what they were doing was legal

        If the government truly *did* say that it was legal, then that's a decent defence in court. But, given how blatantly illegal the action, it's something for a court to try, not for the CPS to filter.

        It appears that the CPS are interpreting "not in the public interest" as "embarrassing to a few politicians". Again.


        1. Martin Nelson

          Money, Money Money

          It all comes down to money at the end of the day.

          The CPS have to filter cases and make charges on lesser grounds to save money.

          The CPS have long been under-staffed and poorly maintained.

          The truth is that the cost of trying something with no definite win is a sketchy prospect. I can completely understand, if not condone the descision.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            If the CPS want to prosecute cash is not an issue.....

            The CPS just don't want to prosecute! The cited reasons are utter bollocks both in law and in practice and represent a prevailing shade of opinion.They show a not untypical pusillanimous approach to defense of the "small" individual/private interest against the "large" corporate interest. They and the police are going through the same hoop with News International. The gall of these fkrs is almost incredible.

        2. Anonymous Coward


          >If the government truly *did* say that it was legal, then that's a decent defence in court.

          If the govermint "did" say that it was legal, then the govermint should be prosecuted...

  2. hplasm

    Crown Prostitution Service

    Bought and Paid For.

    1. MrT

      Tit le

      <---- better icon for this, surely? ;-)

      And, as a general comment on this steaming pile of a CPS ruling... WTF?

  3. Oliver Mayes

    "honest mistake or genuine misunderstanding of the law"

    Utter bollocks! Since when has ignorance of the law been a defence? If they were receiving conflicting legal advice then there should have been no action taken until they were certain that they were acting within the law.

    If an individual were to claim that they mistunderstood a law and so cannot be held liable for an offence they would still be prosecuted. Too much money exchanging hands behind closed doors here methinks.

  4. Alex Brett


    If he needs funds to appeal it / get a judicial review etc, then I'm happy to make a modest donation (as I suspect many other people would be)...

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      How much is this likely to cost? He can have some of my hard-earned if it'll make a difference.

      1. Alexander Hanff 1


        I have no idea how much this is going to cost yet. First I need to get back in touch with the CPS to find out if there is any process for appeal (they conveniently failed to provide any procedural information of this nature).

        If there is no procedure for appeal, then Judicial Review is the next step at which point I will have to obtain a quote from a Barrister to determine costs.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          IANAL but.....

          over another matter it was explained to me that any member of the public can lay an information before a magistrate and commence a private prosecution without either plod or CPS being involved on any criminal matter.

          You would have to act as prosecution yourself or employ lawyer to do so for you and if you lose they could award costs against you but the maximum amount, or so I was told is £50 in Magistrates Court.

          You would have to do the plod job regarding collection of evidence yourself, or employ a PI.

          I was fortunate that plod eventually took action in my case but I left them in no doubt that if they didn't I would and they would have to bear the resultant publicity.

          1. Alexander Hanff 1


            That is not the case with RIPA, this CPS decision was the result of the private prosecution process. RIPA is treated as a special law where only the Director of Public Prosecutions can grant permission for a private prosecution under RIPA and if granted only the CPS are allowed to prosecute the case.

            This is the route I took when the City of London Police refused to press charges; I wrote to the DPP seeking permission for private prosecution, he formally passed it to CPS to assess and any prosecution was completely dependent on CPS assessment, their assessment is not to prosecute, so no private prosecution is possible now.


            1. Vic


              > only the Director of Public Prosecutions can grant permission

              Isn't that just the very definition of corruption?

              All legal recourse is completely prevented because the DPP says so.


              1. Alexander Hanff 1


                I won't disagree with you there, it is a ridiculous situation.

        2. Richard Taylor 2
          Thumb Up

          I will donate - please tell me how when you know

          As above

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Seriously though

      How do we donate?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There you go, folks!

    A celeb or MP and someone listens to your voicemail? Call PC Plod...

    A normal member of the public having your paid-for telecommunications facilities monitored and details sold off for advertising without your knowledge or permission? Nothing to see here, carry on...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No honour amongst thieves then.

    For shame.


  7. FailKing

    To Big To Be Prosecuted

    "added that the "behaviour in question" was "unlikely to be repeated".


    Surely they should be apologising at least and telling plod that it will NEVER happen again.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Not even

      Unfortunately an apology may be seen as admitting culpability; besides this, ignorance of the law (and promising never to do it again) has never been considered a defence.

      Until now, apparently.

      Didn't the European Court say they would jump all over this if the CPS decided not to prosecute? Where are they then?

    2. Gulfie

      "Unlikely to be repeated"

      In my experience the best way to avoid a repeat offence by a business is to take action against the perpetrator. A big fat fine - hit them where it hurts and they damn well won't do it again.

      Fail, CPS - Fail.

      I look forward to explaining my misunderstanding of IR35 if I'm ever found in breach, should go down a treat, that. After all I paid for advice, and I have the documentation to show I was acting within my understanding of the rules...

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Consultancy jobs coming up soon?

    I wonder whether this will be like the other big company crime investigations, where the former crime investigators end up a couple of years later, with a part time paid consultancy role at the organisation they were investigating for criminal offences?

  9. TrishaD

    UK plc

    Us 'citizens' of the UK need to bear one thing in mind - like on Facebook, we may think we're the customers but we're actually the product ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      But we're not citizens - we're subjects.

      1. browntomatoes

        British subjects and British Citizens

        We've been citizens of one sort or another since 1949, and most of us haven't been subjects at all since 1983.

        See Wikipedia on this here:

      2. cupperty

        or ..

        but we're not citizens, we're suspects

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          or ..

          but we're not citizens, we're objects.

  10. Robbie
    Thumb Down

    Oh what a surprise. Not.

    I was with BT at the time and later discovered (in no small part to El Reg's efforts on this) that I'd been Phormed.

    The CPS is a disgrace. Although their decision is typical, i.e. putting big organisations / business and profits ahead of morality and the law.

  11. Lord Elpuss Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    Utterly, utterly shameful.

    Alex Hanff, if you're reading this, do you have an address/email we can write to to express our disgust at a system which has so clearly been 'bought and paid for', to quote a previous poster?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Accidentally downvoted you (sorry!) No way to cancel it once done!

      Upvoted you too to even the balance.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Upvote removes downvote

        You are OK.

        Did similar mself once.

      2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Been there, done that

        No problem :-)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sure, here's title.

    A quick search returns this site:

    Is that Alex's site - I don't know, but they seem to at least be related and accept donations.

    1. Alexander Hanff 1
      Thumb Up


      I stepped down from the running of NoDPI in November 2009 as my work at Privacy International meant I no longer had time to run the site. But the NoDPI group still exists and they are doing some great work exposing other companies on these issues.

      Any money donated to NoDPI will be well received for their ongoing work and i encourage people to support them, but i should make it clear that it would not be going to me for my ongoing work.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Thanks for the clarification

        Thanks Alex, but where can we donate to a BT/Phorm Prosecution Fund? I have a few quid here I'd gladly contribute...

        1. Alexander Hanff 1


          It would be irresponsible of me to start a donation fund until I have had a chance to review all the options available. As stated in a comment above, I need to contact the CPS again next week and see if there is a procedure for appeal, if not I then need to speak to a Barrister to determine the cost of a Judicial Review.

          At that point I will be in a position to setup a donation fund for people to help support the Judicial Review.

          Hopefully, given The Register's interest in this issue and their amazing coverage and work on Phorm, they can be pursuaded to post a new article once I get to that point, or allow me to do another Op Ed for them as I did on Street View.

          It is going to take a week to get all this sorted out, so I respectfully ask people to be patient and sincerely thank everyone for their eagerness to support the process.

          Rest assured, I am not giving up on this issue and I will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to see justice, even if that means going all the way to Strasbourg.


          Alexander Hanff

  13. Alex 14


    So "it could be reasonably argued that any offending was the result of an honest mistake or genuine misunderstanding of the law" and the "behaviour in question [was] unlikely to be repeated".

    I wonder how far I'd get if I tried the "I didn't know it was wrong and I promise not to do it again" excuse.

  14. Vic

    What is the point?

    ...Of the CPS?

    It's up to a court to decide whether mitigating circumstances warrant a guilty defendant being discharged. The CPS' task is to prosecute those lawbreakers where they believe they can make a case.

    If the CPS can't make a case against a criminal who has already admitted a crime, they are clearly not fit for purpose.

    This whole thing smells really, really bad, but it'll probably just go down as yet another example of "Can't Prosecute Shit".

    If there is no public interest in the prosecution of someone who has clearly, gratuitously, and repeatedly broken RIPA2000, then it is clear that the law in question is itself not in the public interest, and should be repealed.

    Twats, the lot of 'em.


  15. despairing citizen

    interesting to note

    "We have concluded a prosecution would not be in the public interest. As such, consent to a prosecution cannot be given."

    I noticed they didn't say I crime had not been commited, just that they didn't think it worth prosecuting.

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge


      Actually they said there wasn't enough evidence, which is not the same thing as saying a crime was not committed, or that they don't think it worth prosecuting.

      An example of this. My mum was on the jury for a case of someone accused of dealing in drugs. The man was clearly guilty, but he was found not guilty. why? The judge explained that while he personally had no doubt of the man's guilt, the Police had not produced adequate evidence of that guilt. Interestingly the judge also noted the distinction between Innocent (which means they did not commit a crime), and not guilty (which means they may have committed the crime).

      1. Vic


        > Interestingly the judge also noted the distinction between

        > Innocent (which means they did not commit a crime), and

        > not guilty (which means they may have committed the crime).

        I doubt he said that, exactly, as that would open the door up to a mistrial.

        A verdict of "not guilty" is identical to "innocent". The defendant is free to leave without a stain on his character. I rather like Scottish Law option of "not proven", but we don't have that down here.

        If the judge said anything, he almost certainly pointed out to the jury that a verdict of "guilty" is only available if the prosecution has proven the case, and that a case insufficiently proven must be returned as "not guilty", even if the jury suspect that defendant committed the crime.


  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't over.

    There's still the European courts.

    And whatever happens, this dragged Phorm out into the public eye and destroyed it. BT of course lumbers on, but is no longer able to deploy its snooping plan.

    Yes, I'd be happy to donate to Alex too. Hope he sticks up a paypal button or such like.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Ah, the CPS...

    Failing the British public one case at a time.

  18. The Original Ash
    Big Brother

    The first rule...

    I am Jacks' total lack or surprise.

    Guess I'll be investing in an out of country VPN after all.

    1. Craig Chambers

      The first rule of apostrophe club is...

      Possessive apostrophes for singular nouns go between the noun and the "s"

      Liked the quote though :-)


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