Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 17:43 UK

Home Office questioned over Phorm

An eye over mesh
Critics question what the Home Office knew about Phorm

Questions about how the government has dealt with complaints about an ad-serving firm that monitors web traffic are being asked ahead of an EU enquiry.

In the House of Lords Lib Dem peer Baroness Miller has asked a series of questions about the nature of talks between the government and Phorm.

Critics have asked why the Home Office has not intervened over secret Phorm trials BT conducted in 2006 and 2007.

The EU has asked the UK government to clarify the situation.

Web monitor

In her questions Baroness Miller has asked about the issues surrounding Phorm and the technology it employs.

In one question she asked if the government has issued advice to net service firms about getting consent for web-watching ad systems or what needs to be done to let people know their web habits could be monitored.

In response the government said it was up to net firms to decide if a service they provide was within the law.

The Home Office told the BBC that it was unaware of BT's early trials, in which thousands of BT customers had their web habits monitored without consent.

But it did confirm that Phorm had approached the Home Office in June 2007.

"We welcome companies sharing commercially sensitive ideas and proposals with us in confidence if that means public safety considerations and legal obligation can be taken into account, where appropriate, in the conception of new products and services," it said in a statement.

Technology consultant Peter John, who has been following Phorm closely, asked why the Home Office did not intervene once it became clear that customers were unhappy that their web surfing habits had been monitored without consent.

He believes the Home Office should have sought legal advice about a document it prepared for BT on the legality of the service in relation to RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

It found that the service may comply with RIPA but only if consent was asked.

The Home Office said it had no knowledge of BT's trials despite a series of meetings with Phorm.

"The Home Office met with Phorm immediately after the second set of trials in summer 2007, though it wouldn't tell me who was present at the meeting, what the agenda was or what the minutes were," said Mr John.

According to Mr John, the City of London Police is currently conducting its own investigation into Phorm, following complaints against BT.

Some customers held a protest at BT's annual general meeting in July after which they handed a dossier of complaints to police.

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