back to article EU tells UK to deal with Phorm - or else

The European Commission has sent a message to the British government, and it reads something like this: "If you don't deal with Phorm, we will." Earlier this month, according to Dow Jones, the European Union commissioner for information society and media sent a "pre-warning letter" to UK authorities, voicing her concern over …


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  1. dervheid


    Before fucking time! No surprise that this piss-poor excuse for a government and it's minions are being forced into action by the EU. Not that any action will happen any time soon mind you.

    We'd be better of with fucking penguins in charge!

  2. Anonymous Coward

    About time ...

    ... that people start to call for a public enquiry into the actions of HMG and the regulators.

    Flames - hopefully some careers will go up in smoke.

  3. Spider
    Thumb Up

    if you need cheering up

    check the Phorm share price over last 9 months.

    makes Northern Rock look solid....

    oh my sides...

  4. Steven Raith

    Lawks-a-lordy! EU in useful shocker...

    Blimey, first ruling that having farming land as setaside is a Bad Move now that there are food price issues, and now giving the Phormulaics a kick up the arse about privacy.

    If the EU does something else useful this week, do we run the risk of the universe disappearing instantly?

    [and being replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable, of course]

    Steven R

  5. Tom Chiverton Silver badge

    As they say on /.


  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Roger Lancefield
    Thumb Up

    Oh, jolly good show!

    There's a lot of facetious stuff on El Reg, but you guys/gals have done important work on the Phorm issue. If ever there was an outfit that needed a good journalistic shoeing, it was those Pheckers. Oh, and BT, we won't forget your cynical role in this. What were you thinking??

    Tipping hat and raising glass of strong continental lager to El Reg staff as I type this (not simultaneously, obviously, I'm a bloke and I suck at multi-tasking).

  8. Red Bren

    Thank Darwin for Reding

    Any chance we can head hunt her for the OFCOM top job when the current incumbent, David Currie, rides off into the (orange?*) sunset?

    * I'll bet a pint that he ends up working for one of the companies he is currently supposed to be regulating...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Why is UK government not concerned one bit ?? Not trying to start a UK vs US thing, but if even our gov takes issue with phorm why is yours sleeping on the issue.

    Ok to be fair I was shocked that congress was taking aim at phorm like issues

  10. James Pickett


    It would seem that our government is becoming so useless that it's even beginning to make the Eurocrats look good. Who'd have predicted that?

    Also, glad to see that El Reg is on the ball enough to spot the Home Office's wobbly English. Too many immigrants working there, I expect...

    We need a 'crap government' icon, IMHO.

  11. Stephen Cole

    A sad day indeed...

    When we have to rely on the EU to inforce UK law because our own government has been bought by phorm (former ministers serving on BT's board) or simply doesn't care that the privacy & rights of tens of thousands of UK citizens has been breached.

    If an individual instead of a large corporation had illegally acquired 1000's of BT customers details then I think we'd be seeing swift legal action, instead we get a whitehall white-wash with the government (as always) favouring big business over the rights of the little people who can't reward them with campaign contributions & cushy jobs when they leave office.

  12. Stephen Cole


    I for one welcome our new penguin overloads!

  13. Paul Buxton

    That's scuppered it

    DOOM!!! That's what we want, more DOOM!!!

    Then this comes along and at last there is light.

    May I be the first to make the very cynical comment that this is a very clever game the government have just played, everyone who cares about the privacy laws in this country was also probably naturally sceptical about issues like adopting the Euro as currency and now it doesn't look such a bad prospect.

    I for one welcome our evil Belgian overlords.

    On a more serious note I've just read that we have the worst lifestyle of any country in Europe, higher costs, more hours work, less holidays, more rain, lower life expectancy, that sort of stuff. Maybe Brussels can impose sanctions on our Government until they sort it out. It could be the third thing that Steven Raith was talking about. We can then at least turn on the Large Hadron Collider with a sense of impending doom, I'm already beginning to miss it.

  14. Steve
    Thumb Up

    Re: Oh, jolly good show!

    "There's a lot of facetious stuff on El Reg, but you guys/gals have done important work on the Phorm issue."

    Here, here!

    It's clear that pretty much all of the accurate information in the mainstream media was sourced from here. Plus, you can give someone all the arguments against it in one handy link.

  15. Chris G

    Cynically paranoid

    Or paranoically cynical describes my feelings about any govuk attitudes to information about it's subjects. In this case, I think it is likely that the gov is thinking it should have access to the info gathered by Phorm just as it likes to have any and all other info on it's subjects. Ban Phorm no info.

  16. Claire Rand

    the future

    at some point BT will wash thier hands of this, not willingly, but when they do they will move very fast.

    it will be all about bad legal advice, acting in good faith etc.

    be assured lession will be learnt..

    oddly no one will be responsible though

    but they will leanr a lession, next time they will make sure you don't find out

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    European Union at its best

    Kicking the ass of incompetent governments. Good job.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    For those worried about bananas...

    Here we see why the EU works, they are actively trying to protect our rights when our own government wants to sell them off.

    Its a bendy banana or your human rights, make your choice.

  19. MrT

    @ Chris G

    That's not paranoia, it's perfectly reasonable thinking... add the following things together:


    - the inability of Jacqui Smith to answer anything about Phorm on her many webchat sessions

    - the various buck-passing exercises done by all those who should be looking to uphold the regs/laws

    - aforementioned posts in BT, Phorm and HMG that have been held by those from each other organisation (BT manager becomes Phorm manager, HMG minister on BT board)

    and, in the words of K-Tel, 'many more'...

    Stands to reason that HMG is going to try and maintain the work of Phorm/Webwise in some sort of quasi-ALMO way. Next step - HMG will fight the EU over being told that Phorm can not operate in the UK... anyone care to guess when that headline might arrive?

  20. Les Matthew

    Re: About time ...

    "Flames - hopefully some careers will go up in smoke."

    Nope, what we will need is a Golden Handshake icon for that.

  21. kain preacher

    Leason learned

    Next time around buy off the EU. Then you cane pimp whom ever you want

  22. Cavehomme

    Thank Goodness for the EU!

    Hail the EU, all is forgiven....well almost.

    Shows how bad a state the UK is in if it needs t@$$ers like the EU to give a hard nudge like this.

    Much as I do not like Labour, the Tories would be even worse and thrwoing away even more freedoms, a bit like Bush and his mob. As for Lib Dems, well "nice" idea, but the execution is would be well, a bit "nice" and ultimately useless and chaotic.

    So there is no one capable of running UK Plc any more, and the EU are a Yugoslavia or CCCP waiting to disintegrate with a few million dead, so what to do?

    Real democracy. Every town / county in the country to have randomly picked by computer a representative to serve them as an MP for 1 year.

    Same computer picks the cabinet an Prime Minister :o)

    Great idea, and I own the source code ! !!! :o) Open to offers.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Not a good day for Phorm or BT

    An account of the BT AGM which will warm the cockles.

    Well done Pete.

    No hat to take off, so it has to be the coat.

  24. Oldfogey

    @ Lawks-a-lordy! EU in useful shocker...

    But I always thought that the universe had ALREADY been replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable!

    Penguins might thank us for all the fish as well.

  25. Art Hawkes

    I have a dream

    I wrote to Viviane Reding, in my best French, about Phorm pointing out that HMG and its various departments had done nothing. I suggested that she was our last hope of getting some action. Four weeks later I have no reply from her but if she sticks to this threat against the ragbag of ratbags impersonating a government then I forgive her.

  26. Bobby

    Thanks EU

    Looks like another nasty spyware programme bites the dust thanks to the EU but how come Phorm's share prices have risen?

  27. The Cube

    It seems that

    a) We must thank ms Reding yet again for doing what our bunch of useless toadying spineless Alan B'Stards wouldn't do, perhaps we should have a whip round and buy her an even bigger stick

    b) We now have no choice but to remove the entire apparatus of government in the UK, including the police farce and start again. The bad joke that we call democracy is far beyond any redemption or repair.

  28. Gordon Pryra

    @Stephen Cole

    I sent a mail to Ms Reding, reading pretty much like your post.

    I jsut wish there actually WAS a way for the average person to bring criminals to justice.

    Because thats what our "leader ship" are, they break the law for their own personal gain. And they have the Police behind them.

  29. Anonymous Coward


    "Not trying to start a UK vs US thing, but if even our gov takes issue with phorm why is yours sleeping on the issue."

    Simple, the US goverment have no access to the data (yet) so can't use the data to spy on the 5 billion terrorists out there.

  30. Neil

    Sad state of affairs

    You know your government is fucked when the EU start having the moral high ground over you.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    OMG - a thread where everyone agrees

    @ James Pickett: "We need a 'crap government' icon"... and the more astute among us have also realised that we need a 'crap government' too. Many thanks to the EU for their actions which have finally pointed out what we were all moaning about in the firstplace... that even a crap government is better than a house full of over-priviledged lying, thieving tw@s. I'll just get your coats shall I?

  32. kerry lyons

    serves them right

    I'm in major shock. Being a Eurosceptic on most things, this is te first time I have EVER agreed with anything they have suggested. Now lets hope she sees sense over the idea of charging us to receive calls on mobiles

  33. William Morton

    I wrote to the EU lady too-

    -and no I never got a reply however I am happy that there is someone out there who respects the rights of the little man. BT should have to find destroy all the stolen data and pay compensation to all customers that they cant prove were not profiled. This "we dont know who we screwed" arguement doesnt stand up with the Child Support Agency so why should BT get to hide behind it

  34. C LARDER

    Phorm - you only have to say yes.

    I would have thought all BT needs to do is add a one-liner to terms and conditions saying you agree to Phorm tracking your activity. Enough people would fail to read it and those that do object can go to another ISP. Until they all have the same clause. Big brother will watch you wether you like it or not.

  35. Dan Silver badge

    Not quite sure if the the grass is greener in the US

  36. Thomas

    "earlier today, BT's Annual General Meeting was hit by a real live anti-Phorm protest."

    Any chance of an article on that? How many people, whether they managed to doorstep anyone important (my assumption being that the BT upper brass are living in some airy fairy fantasy world, unaware and uncaring that the illegality of their actions has actually been noticed), etc?

  37. spam

    Isn't it possible to just get Phorm shut down on prior art

    They use the name phorm

    I used to use Phorum, way before they existed.

    What Rat-Scum phorm is. And the ISP's that play with them. Rat-Scum

  38. NB
    Paris Hilton

    @t he cube

    I thoroughly agree! Although largely euro-sceptic I have to say I'm beginning to think that we should just hand over control to the EU, abolish our existing parliaments, all representation can be done in the EU parliament and our Prime Minister would largely be a figurehead that would be directly elected by the people of the UK.

    While we're at it can we please abolish the party system and make it illegal for any one individual or organisation to donate more than £500 to a politician?

    And finally, once we've got all that sorted out can we prosecute the entire labour cabinet for gross violations of human rights and attempting to subvert democracy as we know it?


    Pretty please?!

    Paris because she's got european connections.

  39. David Pollard

    Don't count on it

    Encouraging though it may be that a strongly worded letter has been sent, it would be a mistake to assume that EU officialdom is completely opposed to surveillance of browsing habits. It's perhaps more likely that control-freaks there are miffed because the Home Office have the option to access this technology rather than one of their departments.

  40. Andy Watt

    Come the revolution...

    The Phorm has turned. Nasty, anyway.

    Well, it's almost a joke.

  41. Anonymous Coward


    Just incase you missed it previously!!!

  42. Maurice Shakeshaft

    I really am a bit disappointed here....

    One small bout of commonsense and application of decency and we go overboard.

    It is damming of us that we've, nationally, set our site so low that this small triumph of the people over the state (and we haven't won yet) is praised to the gods.

    We haven't forced a commonsense revolution on ID cards, motorway monitoring or wind energy yet which, in some ways, are as important.

    I'm very glad that someone who can do something has started to take a stand and I await the results with trepidation.

    While we're not back in revolutionary '68, this should give "the people" more confidence that we can probably win more of the battles we choose to fight without massive losses and setbacks - or am I writing complete blx...

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm I wonder ?

    Why is the UK government sat on it's hands here ?

    Maybe the feed also goes to GCHQ and their little spies ?

    What a perfect way to spy on everyone's internet habits and claim that it is private enterprise doing the spying !

    Answers on a postcard please Gordon Brown !

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT is winning this

    This article was posted roughly 21 hours ago and there are about 40 comments. When the first few stories broke the number of comments would have been up in the hundreds within minutes. BT just have to sit there ignoring everybody until the noise made by the really vocal minority becomes less than the background noise. Then they'll get on with implementing it. That time doesn't seem so far away as it appears that most have already realised that letting off steam in what is effectively a specialist forum is about as productive as banging their head against a wall, and they are correct in this.

    The turn out for the demonstration was dismal, not even a politician could claim otherwise. No I didn't go but then I'm not based in the UK. I reckon there must be literally hundreds of read only head nodding El Regites within a stones throw of where the AGM was held but not one took even five minutes to pop down and show support. It might have been different earlier on before a sort of battle weariness had settled in.

    Before you all go berating me for being defeatist, sit back and you'll see that this is what is happenning and channel your frustration into real pen on paper action not comments in here, I would like to think this is the reason for the sparsity of comment but I'm not delusional. And next time Alex Hanff, or anybody else, organises a demo then don't sit at your desk watching it through the window get down there and increase the visible body count.

    Sadly, apathy is alive, well and breeding in the UK and the saddest thing is, is that it's home grown.

  45. Bobby

    What a load of rubbish.

    'This article was posted roughly 21 hours ago and there are about 40 comments. When the first few stories broke the number of comments would have been up in the hundreds within minutes. BT just have to sit there ignoring everybody until the noise made by the really vocal minority becomes less than the background noise. Then they'll get on with implementing it.'

    What a load of rubbish. BT/PHORM need to acquire explicit consent for an opt in to this scam and who to hell in their right mind would do this? They are also required to be sensitive to customers wishes which rules out any dirty tricks or harrassment.. Also as the article clearly states 'the EU will take action' if the law is abused.

    I think the general public are happy now this spyware programme has been curbed therefore very little protest on here...

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Hmmm I wonder ?

    UK/US electronic intelligence gathering systems have been "eavesdropping" on us since the first days of the Internet, in one form or another (Carnivore, Echelon etc). Most of the time it really was only the ones with something really bad to hide who needed to worry (they didn't care if you downloaded what is now classed as "extreme" porn but they would keep watch on other things - like people downloading the Anarchists' Cookbook, buying lots of fertilizer and a dodgy van and then emailing their buddies to suggest a trip to London).

    But with the new laws being brought in by the NuLabour Thought Police - and especially with the proposed phone and email database (remind me, is that on or off the agenda today? Oh wait, there's a by-election next week so it'll be off again) - I would guess the eager beavers at GCHQ and the other elint centers around the country will be working their little cotton socks off...

  47. Stewart Haywood

    This says a lot about the UK.

    Not so long ago the Brits would have joined ranks, "how dare those damn Frenchies tell us how to run our country!". Right or wrong, the EU would not have been welcome poking it's large, hooked, foreign nose into our business. And now, the closet Papist Blair and no doubt Frenchy loving Scot Brown Trousers, have done such a good job we are thanking the foreign devils for saving us. What a sad, sad state of affairs.

    I'm glad I left.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    Chin up!

    Lots of people are watching this unfolding story with much interest. Lack of comments to Reg stories does not mean a waning of interest!

    Myself, I'm going to be responding to the fob-off that I got from my MP now that sufficient time has passed for more things to happen, e.g. the BT shareholders meeting, EU comments, etc.

    Keep up the pressure with your MP. You can get a message to your MP within minutes via

    Tell your friends, family and work colleagues again. Make sure everyone you know has this issue in the back of their minds, if not the front.

    Thumb Up


    "BT upper brass are living in some airy fairy fantasy world, unaware and uncaring that the illegality of their actions has actually been noticed"

    I can promise you, after the BT 2008 AGM, the top brass are very very much aware that they have been noticed. And about 800 shareholders have also also had it brought to their notice too...

    I just wish they'd publish minutes and/or the video footage.

  50. Anonymous Coward

    Taxing it?

    My guess is that Trousers hopes to tax Phorm especially UK based Phorm as it can't really locate elsewhere in EU. "Yeh, you can us it here, base it here (and we'll tax you later :) "

    UK springboard into EU = UK taxes (much needed for politico and (un)civilio expenses?)

  51. Paul


    Na. Thats one of the problems. I doute it will be aloud to be opt out only.

  52. William Morton

    The number at the share holder meeting had to be too low

    All this talk of joining ranks and mass protests, what would have happened if everyone against PHORM turned up.

    The state is backing BT and PHORM they would have just done their usual trick of mixing paid trouble makers into the crowd and made a riot out of it. Then they would have said that all the property damage was antiPHORM's fault and used the press against us.

    The EU is the way to go, I know that there are issues with passing control to outsiders but look what our "own people" do to us.

  53. Alex

    @What a load of rubbish

    "BT just have to sit there ignoring everybody until the noise made by the really vocal minority becomes less than the background noise. Then they'll get on with implementing it."

    Apparently, they think they've waited long enough.

  54. Art Hawkes

    bad Phorm

    On 17th July I posted about a letter to Viviane Reding. Today, 19th, I have a reply. Much of the letter is about fundamental rights covered by Articles 7 and 8 but two paragraphs might interest El Reg readers.

    Member States are to ensure the confidentiality of communications and related traffic data through national legislation. They are required to prohibit interception or surveillance of [same] by persons other than the users without their consent. Traffic data may only be processed for certain defined purposes, e.g. billing and for a limited period. The subscriber must be informed about such processing. Additional processing requires anonymisation or prior consent of the subscriber or user.

    The Commission is currently in contact with the UK authorities to clarify, in particular, the actions of the competent national authorities with regard to the users' complaints about trials of the Phorm technology by BT in 2006 and 2007, as well as the position of the UK authorities regarding the planned future deployment of the Phorm technology, in particular the way in which it is planned to obtain the users' consent. The Commission will continue to follow this case and take appropriate action, should the need arise, to ensure that the relevant EU law is effectively implemented by the UK authorities on this matter.

    Fortunately, the letter was in English as my French isn't that good.

  55. Bobby

    A bad disease.

    Dear Viviane Reding,

    May I lend my support in favour of any action you see fit to curb the internet privacy invasions by BT-PHORM in the UK and please add me to the long list of complainants against these illegal activities.

    Every living individual has a fundamental right to his/her privacy and although I have so far beaten the invaders by changing to a reputable Isp I do however feel sympathy for the more vulnerable people who will no doubt be victimised by their lack of awareness.

    The whole community supports your stance against privacy lawbreaking in the UK that if allowed has the potential to sweep over the whole world like a bad disease.

    Many thanks,

    ****** *********

  56. Andy Livingstone

    @ Art Hawkes

    "The Commission is currently in contact with the UK authorities to clarify, in particular, the actions of the competent national authorities with regard to the users' complaints about trials of the Phorm technology by BT in 2006 and 2007"

    Where the hell do they hope to find "competent authorities" among this rabble?

    Time for tumbrils.

  57. Sceptical Bastard

    If you've not read this...

    ... do so!

    This report on BT's AGM makes fascinating reading. It was posted above but I've posted it again for those who missed it.

    Let's hope K(u)nt Ertegrul has a miserable Christmas

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