Britain’s failure to protect its citizens from secret surveillance on the internet is to be investigated by the European Commission.
The move will fuel claims that Britain is sliding towards a Big Brother state and could end with the Government being forced to defend its policy on internet privacy in front of judges in Europe.
The legal action is being brought over the use of controversial behavioural advertising services which were tested on BT’s internet customers without their consent.
Yesterday, the EU said it wanted “clear consent” from internet users that their private data was being used to gather commercial information about their web shopping habits.
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Under the programme, the UK-listed company Phorm has developed technology that allows internet service providers (ISPs) to track what their users are doing online. ISPs can then sell that information to media companies and advertisers, who can use it to place more relevant advertisements on websites the user subsequently visits. The EU has accused Britain of turning a blind eye to the growth in this kind of internet marketing.
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Yesterday, the EU telecoms commissioner, Viviane Reding, said: “I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation.”
Last year, BT tested the Phorm technology to track its customer’s internet searches without their knowledge, provoking complaints from users and from UK members of the European Parliament.