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European Commission Case Against UK Over Phorm

European Union communications commissioner Viviane Reding has said that the commission was concerned Phorm was breaching consumer privacy directives, and called on the UK Government to take action to protect consumers' privacy. The European Commission wrote to the UK government on 30 June 2008 to set out the context of the EU's interest in the controversy, and asked detailed questions ahead of possible Commission intervention. It required the UK to respond to the letter one month after it was sent. A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) admitted on 16 August that the UK had not met the deadline.

On 16 September, BERR refused The Register's request to release the full text of their reply to the European Commission, but released a statement to the effect that the UK authorities consider Phorm's products are capable of being operated in a lawful, appropriate and transparent fashion. Unsatisfied by the response, the European Commission wrote to the UK again on 6 October. Martin Selmayr, spokesman for Reding's Information Society and Media directorate-general said, "For us the matter is not finished. Quite the contrary."

The UK government responded again in November, but the Commission sent another letter to the government in January 2009. This third letter was sent because the Commission was not satisfied with explanations about implementation of European law in the context of the Phorm case. Selmayr was quoted in The Register as saying, "The European Commission's investigation with regard to the Phorm case is still ongoing," and he went on to say that the Commission may have to proceed to formal action if the UK authorities do not provide a satisfactory response to the Commission's concerns.

On 14 April, the European Commission said they have "opened an infringement proceeding against the United Kingdom" regarding ISPs' use of Phorm:

If the Commission receives no reply, or if the observations presented by the UK are not satisfactory, the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion (the second stage in an infringement proceeding). If the UK still fails to fulfil its obligations under EU law after that, the Commission will refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

That day, in response to a news item by The Register regarding the European Commission's preparations to sue the UK government, Phorm said their technology "is fully compliant with UK legislation and relevant EU directives. This has been confirmed by BERR and by the UK regulatory authorities and we note that there is no suggestion to the contrary in the Commission's statement today." However, BERR denied such confirmation when they responded to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request also made that day:

An examination of our paper and electronic records has not revealed any such material. To add further clarification for your information, BERR has never provided such a statement to Phorm and has never confirmed to the company “that their technology is fully compliant”.

In January 2012, the EU dropped its case against the UK government.

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