back to article Downing Street on Phorm: 'Meh'

Downing Street has palmed off responsibility for enforcing the law around its web monitoring and profiling technology to the Information Commissioner. The Prime Minister's response to a public petition today comes despite his Home Office having given a positive pre-launch legal opinion in private to Phorm and BT. The petition …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Conspiracy alert

    Of course, HMG's "light touch" regulation of Phorm is NOTHING AT ALL to do with the fact they HMG want to spy on us all in more or less the same way. Honest.

  2. Ash
    Thumb Down

    lol @ independent body

    "ICO is an independent body, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to second guess its decisions."

    *forehead slap* fucking LOL the hypocrisy is truly astounding! As if the government has any respect for independent bodies... witness Jacqui Smith completely ignoring the conclusions from the ACMD's report on drug harm: -

  3. John Robson Silver badge



    ICO is an independent body"

    So why does it have a domain?

  4. this

    ico, yeah right

    Well, the ico pdf (ie the passed buck) reads as basically an approval of the obvious good intentions of Phorm and BT. Those petitions are a complete waste of time methinks.

  5. censored


    No mention of the EU deciding it was illegal and asking UKgov to take action against BT and Phorm?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Eventually the music will stop

    This game of pass the Phorm parcel really has to stop sometime. We know have ICO, Ofcom, Home Office, DBERR, IPO, 10 Downing St, West Midlands Police, and City of London Police all quickly passing the parcel and hoping the music won't stop. Crown Prosecution Service are currently trying to avoid unwrapping the one remaining layer of newspaper but have no one to pass the parcel to. Gradually more and more of the murky story of the covert illegal trials is revealed (yes - that was the word that was missing from the no. 10 Downing St. reply - illegal) as blood is miraculously, drop by drop, squeezed out of the FOI stone. EU infraction proceedings are heading our way and look likely to cause maximum embarrassment to the Home Office. The enforcement of RIPA against private organisations that ignore it appears to be a joke. And while the party music plays on and on, the ISPs and Phorm are left in limbo.

    Meanwhile for a laugh - do visit the Phorm "truth" site - or at least - the latest version (truth changes regularly there) - you couldn't make it up.

    Paris - because she's been looking for a UK special friend, just like Phorm.

  7. Richard Silver badge

    What a surprise.

    Has The Register passed this on to Viviane Reding of the European Commission yet?

    I'm sure they'll be very interested to know that UK.Gov cares so little about the ePrivacy Directive.

  8. Neil Maybin

    Neither the understanding nor the will to do anything ...

    If they did understand it, and if they had the will to do anything about it, they would be talking about the Home Office, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and whether the current Crown Prosecution investigation will ever come to fruition.

    As it is, they are talking about the Information Commissioner, whose powers are mostly those of persuasion rather than enforcement.

    I feel a letter to European Commissioner Reding coming on ...

  9. Craig McLean

    Oh great

    So when independent bodies return results the government don't like they are challenged and thrown out, vis the comments from Ash, but when the independant body whose ONLY JOB is to protect our private data pisses away said privacy with staggering negligence the government don't want to get involved.

    Way to go, Waqui & co. One more shining example of your coundn'tgiveafuckery in action.

    The ICO is a well-acknowledged and long-running joke, and until we get a government who takes their role seriously and sticks a rocket up them, none of us are safe from this and many other kinds of data-rape.

  10. Mark
    Thumb Down

    what a crock of.....

    insert naughty words here!

  11. dave appleby


    And refering to an ICO release over a year out of date.

    Pah, pah I say.........

  12. Slartybardfast

    New Petition?

    How About a new petition along the lines of;

    We the undersigned have no faith that the recent statement from No10 Re Phorm does anything to protect our rights to privacy or clarify the situation as to the legality of Phorm and related systems.

    I'm sure that someone else could put this into better words and submit it.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    After the initial "Meh?"

    After the initial "Meh?" when asked to provide other comments a senior civil servant replied "Ooo ook at ittell ting wi lites on it. Maarmee mee want one off dose now"

  14. Florence Stanfield
    Thumb Down

    Forwarding my reply to the EU

    Well if Gordon Brown is too old to understand this technology and the dangers, the ICO do not have the experience to comprehend the issues I think we need the EU to protect us from the fools who have been allowed in charge of this countries citizen’s privacy. It is sad also that today’s government would fudge and borrow comments/phrases from information posted by BERR and the ICO as this shows the lack of understanding or even care of this labour government for the citizens. I think if we had a monkey in charge instead of Brown it would do a better job.

    Now to forward my email to Commissioner Reding if you need help finding her email addy google is your friend.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Privacy better tell ICO

    Well 10 Drowning Street thinks ICO is there to protect our privacy.

    Strange that ICO doesn't think it there to do protect our privacy under current legislation.

    PS I do mean Drowning Street as it drowning big time with UK public.

  16. fiddler

    Ah...the ICO experts...

    So the Government is satisfied that the ICO is in a strong position to be able to assess with due responsibility sophisticated Deep Packet Inspection technology such as Phorm's is it?

    They must be thinking of another ICO, because the one I know has admitted that there is a lack of IT expertise in the organisation, having brazenly admitted months ago that it was technically complex.

    This response from No.10 is utterly fatuous and deeply insulting to all those who signed the petition.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shame on you

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Chill ...

    These halfwits will be out of office very soon and I think that they and their possible successors are starting to be (dimly) aware that We The Public have frankly had enough of their antics/c**nting about.

    The political classes are by definition venal (they make a career of politics after all) and the sole reason they are in it at all is simply because they could not possibly hope to earn a proper living actually doing anything of value or use to anyone or to society in general. Because they are just plain fucking stupid. End Of.

    Phorm will never be rolled out. BT may not even exist in its current configuration by the end of this year and its somewhat unlikely Phorm will either. If by some astounding stroke of bad luck either or both of them are still poisoning the well of communication then I think those taking a relaxed attitude now better buck up their fucking ideas. Fast. Or suffer the consequences.

  19. Chris Simmons

    What crap

    It's typical of #10 that they are not prepared to take responsibility for anything; they are there not just to protect us for the overblown terrorist threat, but also against over-zealous, dirty and rogue commercial elements.

    When on earth are they ever going to get it into their stupid, thick heads that they are our servants and their to look after our best interests in all aspects of life (apart from the obvious references to the nanny-state idiocies that Fark manages to point out on a regular basis?

    Oi, Gov - you have a responsibility towards us not yourselves; the sooner you realise that the better life might become in this and many other countries. Quit the overt Stalinism and just run the fucking country properly - for the good of all citizens and not just business, the intelligence community and the military.

  20. Ed



    Surprising? Not in the slightest.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PECR to the rescue

    Fortunately the ICO also looks after PECR which should be able to protect the privacy of the data subject if they don't give informed consent to having their sensitive personal data processed. Default consent because they have a cookie does not count when it comes to sensitive data. And, if you are looking at someone else's sensitive personal data in your browser window, you can't give consent on their behalf.

    And, I have yet to see the answer to the ICO's question about data processing where permission under RIPA has not been given. The processing of illegally obtained personal data is also something which the ICO is concerned with.

    It is all in the processing. The not using certain advertising channels and throwing the data away after it is processed is not the issue. Just the processing.

    Time to ask some questions of the ICO, and the PM's office.

  22. Neil Greatorex

    Twice this month

    I've been called by BT Sales droids asking me to "Come back". Each time I've let them get to the end of the spiel before asking "Are you going to use Phorm?". On both occasions the droids professed no knowledge of it.


    Phuck off Phorm.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Stop Phoul Play

    DDOS anyone?

    Tis loading a little slow there.

    Funny thing is. Is Jacqui and all teh MP's in teh UK.G! (Im a gangster ;))

    Trying to make us all improve our own securiy of data. By forcing us to encrypt EVERYTHING to stop her and he MP buddys snooping?

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Stop Phoul Play

    Oh wow. I had never taken much notice of that website before. But god is it childish.

    "Miss these are the people who said i stole the pen,( even though i did steal the pen)."

    This is who they are

    We would like to introduce the main characters in the anti-Phorm campaign.

    * "The Angry Activist" - Alexander Hanff

    * "The Concerned Consumer" - Marcus WIlliamson

    * "The People" - individuals like Peter John that post blogs under multiple names such as 'Dephormation' or 'Felixcatuk'.

    * "The Legal Experts", including the Open Rights Group (ORG) and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR)

    * "The Media Mouthpiece" - The Register magazine

    Nice the see El Reg in there

  25. Avian

    Name one

    worthwhile statement to follow a petition on the number 10 web site.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Spam newsletter

    Anybody want to spam the newsletter signups.

    Use this

  27. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton

    It wasn't me Gov, OHMSt!

    Why all the fuss. We managed to take on Iraq despite their secret weapons of mass destruction and Afghanistan despite the way it broke Russia when they tried it on.

    Oh wait. America is broke now too so are er... we.

    Anyway that's got nothing to do with it. The thing is that if it is all done in secret then when it all blows up in our faces then... ermm... well at least nobody can say they were ever told anything.

    Maybe Nanci Pelosi might but who is going to believe her.... ermm... er.. wait a m...

    No I'm sure that has nothing to do errr.. well probably hasn't...

  28. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    You just couldn't make it up...

    8 individual (well, almost) factions involved in this now and not one with the balls to make any form of decision.

    I guess that'll be the old boys network at work again.

  29. Al
    Thumb Down

    Really shouldn't be surprised I guess!

    Trying to participate in democracy appears to be a complete waste of time in the UK. I think a small but determined minority ought to be able to motivate the government into some kind of action, but even though there doesn't seem to be a *huge* amount of money at stake to the Old Boys Club it appears that we don't have the ability to stop anything we don't like if it's not to the old boys liking. I hope all three major parties take battering at the general election, I hope a lot of independents stand, if a lot get in it *may* shake things up, for a while?!

  30. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    Oh look...

    ... another Downing Street petition response that says "it's not our problem, tough".

    And they wonder they have no credibility any more...

  31. SynnerCal


    So the ICO is independent and therefore the expense hounds in the Parli can't do anything about it - what a load of bu**sh*t!

    I don't want Phorm 'regulated' (because we all saw how well that worked with the banks didn't we), I want it shutdown for the simple fact that it's an insidious and unwarranted invasion of privacy. Hell, that's what I thought I signed the petition for. And I thought that's what the ICO was supposed to be there for - to make sure RIPA etc wasn't trodden all over by all and sundry. Otherwise the ICO is just a fancy title and a load of tax money spenders we could all do without.

    @"Eventually the music will stop" - yes, sure no one wants to be left holding the parcel. After all, would you want to be left holding a big worm ridden t*rd!? ;) (By the way, like the analogy!)

    Well I suppose on the basis of this level of response, I'd better get used to being spied on whenever I'm online - if it's not Jacqui and co, then it'll be Kent and lord knows who.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I couldn't believe my eyes...

    ...when I read the item on the ICO website.

    They actually believed BT about opt-in? The whole thing is based about opt-out-by cookie. You can opt out, which stores a cookie. If that cookie is deleted (for example, by an anti-spyware program), then phorm starts harvesting your browsing history.

    And if they did not collect identity information, they would not be able to target the adverts at you (which is what it's for!). They say that there is a totally untrackable random token that glues the browsing history to the advertising, but once it's there they can always chase back the connection every time you start browsing. And it is really not clear how Phorm will differentiate between different users browsing behind a NATed firewall.

    This technology is dangerous to freedom, and there is ample scope for it to be abused in the future.

    Use firefox and dephormation. Always. Or just don't use BT, Talk Talk or Virgin Media as your ISP.

    Black helicopters, natch, because appears to approve of this.

  33. Gary
    Black Helicopters

    Ah bless

    Our (UK) government, such a lovely bunch, protectors of democracy and all that.......

  34. Jason Hall


    Wankers. That is all.

  35. Anonymous Bastard

    Surprised to say.

    After reading stopphoulplay and having a good chuckle at their paranoia (Oh noes! SOMEONE is trying to stop us!) and hypocrisy (promising anonymity and naming those who have used pseudonyms on blogs) I've had to change my mind about something. What they call a "privacy revolution" is actually slightly less invasive than many current advertisers, but still not a revolution.

    However their practice of scanning uninvolved and unwitting websites is wiretapping and ergo must be illegal.

    While I would like assurances from mainstream advertisers that they also do not collect personal data, I am reasonably sure they have no way of reading the content of pages I look at. I disable javascript to prevent code from reading whatever is in my browser, mostly for XSS reasons but also for privacy against advertisers. Noscript also has the welcome advantage of nullifying the most annoying/flashing/sliding/full-page/popup/popunder adverts.

    I'm also worried about the possibility of a site adding keywords to their pages in order to poison your phorm profile and so prompt unwanted adverts being delivered to you at another time. So far I've found no discussion on this. I think their targeted ads will in fact be less useful to me.

    (Alien because I am being watched)

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Typical lack of scruples response

    I guess this is just our useless excuse for a government ducking another one.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Neil Greatorex

    I'm surprised your still getting calls. I packed in BT four months ago and have heard nothing from them since, apart from one call when I told them I was leaving because a) of Phorm and b) because their service was shit.

    I also pointed out that I am an unlisted number and that I'm on TPS and if they called me again I'd take them to court. It seems to have worked. I also pulled a similar stunt with British Gas who are every bit as bad/inconsiderate. Also worked.

    BT appear to regard themselves not only above the law generally but also the fact that someone with an ex-directory number who is ALSO on TPS may not WANT sales calls means nothing to them. Utter venal bastards -- beneath the contempt of decent human society.

  38. Charles Smith

    Lessons will be Learned

    I can see the Headlines in six months time. "Shock Horror as Information Commissioner fails protection" Government Spokesmen says it is terrible how the independent ICO got it so wrong. There will be an urgent review by an independent body and Lessons will be learned .....Glad it wasn't us ....

  39. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Black Helicopters

    I love the smell of conspiracy in the morning


    People, they are all in this together.

    Mix politicians with the rich, stir in some business interests and WOOOSH! - anything becomes legal.

    No one is watching the watchers.


  40. This post has been deleted by its author

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's Self Regulate

    Because we have no f***ing clue how to do it any other way. For Government read FAIL.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...will be monitoring closely all progress on this issue.."

    A typically witless, gutless response that NuLab have been recycling over The War/economy/education/communications/deregulation/etc etc since 1997. The tissue was always veneer thin, now it's gone through entirely.

    I look forward to monitoring closely the progress of horror on Labour faces as they realise at the next election how much they are hated., then my own as the tories win by a landslide.

  43. Tom

    Contacting my MP

    I have sent an email to my local Labour MP, to let him know that after long and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be casting my regular vote for the Labour party in the local, European or National elections when they are called.

    This decision is not solely based upon the unelected Prime Ministers distancing from the use of Phorm, but it is the catalyst in a long running series of decisions that have been undertaken by this current Government.

    The Government could have avoided the current situation of the "expense saga" as far back as 2005, and realised then that the "rules in place" were completely out of touch with reality.

    The Government could of long since put a stop to the ID card scheme and save the country £billions in doing so, but no, they are frivolous with the taxpayers money and mean to push on.

    This self serving Government have also committed to spending £billions schemes such as IMP and MTI to spy on every member of the British public who use the internet and forms of telecommunications. Again, something that absolutely required or necessary, though the Government use the lame excuse of National Security. As if they're going to apprehend Bin Laden by spying on me or you!!

    I could go on and on, but I won't, instead, I will no longer vote Labour.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    1 - I guess that Phorm could not be in worse hands? BT is probably sitting on tons of information and equally probably does not know what to do with other than it wants more of the same.

    If the organisation that attempts to get UK online goes about Phorm with the same ruthless inefficiency well, ... (conclusion here)

    2 - Similarly for UK government and civil servantry

    I'd guess that it is a magpie type operation in which people are commissioned to make it easy to gather all that info and pile it high?

  45. Dennis
    IT Angle

    BNP - UKIP and those meddling EU Commissioners

    For all those that are planning a protest vote in the upcoming elections beware of who you vote for.

    BNP and UKIP want to cut all ties with Europe/EEC/Those meddling EU Commissioners. So that would effectively leave us without any protection from Big Brother at all.

    So apart from all the other reasons not to vote the aforementioned parties.. this is another one.

    Do I smell an IT angle and politics in the same comment.

  46. Trevor
    Black Helicopters

    @AB 23:35

    Way to miss the point....

    They don't read it from the client your browser.

    They read the content of the pages *before_you_even_get_them*

    Now that is spooky no?

    Black helicopters, because they *are* watching me....

  47. Rob Welsh
    Thumb Down


    ....these pricks out NOW! Bunch of thieving, corrupt, scum!

  48. Skizz
    Thumb Down


    "The Government is committed to ensuring that people's privacy is fully protected."

    That would be same government that's trying to stuff an ID card and national ID database down our throats.

    Politicians - we should round them all up and nuke them from orbit, just to be sure!

  49. Barrie Shepherd


    Last time I checked the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was a Law, administerd, one would think, through the courts and Ministry of Justice. (yuk title too 1984) So what on earth has the ICO, which I think is a QANGO, got to do with it?

    By all means let the ICO deal with the Phorm issue BUT let the law deal with ISP's who break the RIPA.

    Unfortunatly the anti Phorm fight focused on the result of the illegal extraction of date rather than the act of aquiring that data.

    Lets find a way to have the discussion without involving Phorm, then they won't get the publicity but the breaches of the RIPA will be challenged.

    If you think forward Phorm will become the government spy, collecting the information that no government could ever get Laws passed for.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "...prompted the European Commission to begin legal proceedings against the UK government."

    I hope they get crucified.

  51. Chris Simmons

    @BNP - UKIP and those meddling EU Commissioners

    Well said Sir.

    As much as many would complain, at least the EU are trying to protect us from certain interests that care so little about so much except their bottom lines.

    Neelie Kroes FTW

  52. Alex C

    Democratic process

    I just re-read the 1.45 am response I wrote in apoplexy. Pleasantly surprised to see how sane it was. (Apart possibly from the beginning: "You lily-livered hand-wringing prats.") I do not anticipate a reply.

    Out of curiosity has anyone here *ever* received a sensible response to one of these?

    I reckon I've signed about 10 of these petitions and haven't seen one that didn't say something along the lines of "nothing to do with us, chum". I did notice that the website doesn't actually list any petitions that might be considered a success story (though I suppose our criterion for success may differ wildly).

  53. JasonW

    So in two stories....

    On the petition response, Government says: ICO is an independent body, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to second guess its decisions. However, ICO has been clear that it will be monitoring closely all progress on this issue, and in particular any future use of Phorm's technology. They will ensure that any such future use is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent manner, and that consumers' rights are fully protected.

    Then the Government says this in response to the Lords' surveillance criticism: The Government has refused to extend to the private sector the power of privacy regulator the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to inspect public bodies' privacy and data protection systems. It would only say that it would "listen" to the arguments for extending that power.

    I could be wrong, but that looks to me like they are saying the ICO is looking but can't do anything about it.

  54. Shakje

    Re: BNP - UKIP and those meddling EU Commissioners

    Two things.

    1) If you want to protest vote why would you vote for either a racist right-wing party, or a party that has made countless mistakes and has more disreputable MPs than the SSP had?

    2) The Tories want to be less centrist in Europe, and pull out of several centrist coalitions. This means that they are having to form new coalitions, but the only more right coalitions are with minority parties (who are also pretty right-wing), if they continue along this path they will probably alienate the larger countries in the EU.

    I don't defend Labour, except to say that the Tories are always going to be a lot worse. David Cameron has about 3 solid policies in his entire manifesto, and snubs everyone by saying "let's play it by ear". That is all.

  55. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    That's a surprise.

    A response to a number ten petition that says "Feck off plebs", who'd have thought it?

    I'm thinking that amanfromMars should stand for Parliament. He makes more sense than *any* of the current incumbents.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    forget voting...

    Voting doesn't work, hasn't done for years - change requires civil disobedience... always. Even then it's not always enough. Think Poll Tax Riots as opposed to the Miners' Strikes.

    If you're really pissed off about the current state of affairs - don't vote for any of the scum, you're just playing by their game if you do. Maybe, just maybe, if so few people vote that we end up with a hung parliament they might get the message that we've had enough of the BS from every single one of them.

    Failing that - violence is maybe the only recourse; time for a bit of Starship Troopers psychology:

    "Violence has resolved more conflicts than anything else. The contrary opinion that violence doesn't solve anything is merely wishful thinking at its worst. "

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well bugger me, another fuck up by the Brown one and his bent cronies. Up the revolution I where the fuck did I put that semtex.

  58. Anonymous Coward

    @ AC 12:18 UTC

    Are you fucking kidding me? You're quoting a film which was basically a metaphor for what happened between 1939 and 1945 to make a point about a Government out of control.

    Mine's the coat; the black leather one next to the jackboots.

  59. Andy Livingstone

    Much more relevant film


  60. SteveMD

    What we have come to expect.

    Typical of this "listening" government. At best, their attitude towards our private data is cavalier, at worst, it is avaricious. I tend to think they want to sell as much of our data as they can and, until or unless the tabloids get interested, nothing is likely to stop them. The opposition by the E.U. to what this government are doing will almost certainly help them with hack editors and, no doubt, be another nail in the coffin of our freedom and privacy.

    I am another life-long Labour voter who cannot wait for this bunch of fascists to get thrown out, even if that means replacing them with the more venal and uncaring Torys.

  61. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Short and Sweet ... and Bitter in Denial.

    With Government in the Doldrums, must the Systemic Fault be in their Directive Communications and Source Intelligence. Or is one to be expected to believe that Party Politicians playing National and International Politically Incorrect Games for the Enrichment of Instant Profit rather than Lasting Value are Leading anything Coherent and Worthy.

    A New Model Delivering Transparency for Perfection of Services would be a Model which could be Copied by Any who would Value Honesty on a Par with Truth for Rock Solid Base Integrity/Business Intelligence.

  62. The Fuzzy Wotnot
    Thumb Up

    So no surprise!

    "Shut up proles you have no idea what you want or what you're talking about. Now hand over all your info and don't second guess us in future. We are in control and we know what you need!"

  63. Anonymous Coward

    Best bit...

    "They will ensure that any such future use is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent manner, and that consumers' rights are fully protected."

    ... but since (as we all know) there isn't really any way to opt out of phorm, it can't ever be lawful!

    Once your ISP signs up to it then tough - you're getting a phorm cookie whether you want one or not and that cookie is all that stops them storing your data (they intercept it regardless).

    Bastards. Illegal fucking spying bastards. The government should - oh wait a minute - they're all in facour of storing as much information about us as they can. Bastards the lot of them

  64. Anonymous Bastard

    @Trevor 08:03

    Please read my post again. I was pointing out non-Phorm like advertisers DO NOT read the content of my pages by any means, not through snooping nor client side.

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