Home Office official offered advice and "comfort" to Phorm spyware vendor

Newly released emails secured through a Freedom of Information request show that a UK Home Office official colluded with and offered guidance to Phorm, providers of illegal spyware that British Telecom infected its users' PCs with. BT deployed a secret test of Phorm that involved infecting its customers' PCs with the spyware, which then rewrote every web-page they viewed with BT's advertising, while gathering information on their browsing habits and delivering it to Phorm and its marketing partners. Subsequently, BT switched from running Phorm as client-side spyware and instead implemented it as a server-side spyware app that captured every web-page visited by affected BT subscribers and inserted BT ads and captured users' clickstreams for BT's marketing partners. The EU has initiated legal action against Phorm for violating European privacy and consumer-protection laws.

Now it transpires that a UK Home Office official provided guidance to Phorm, offering advice on how to skirt British law with a minimum of fuss, tenderly asking if the Phorm executives and partners could be "comforted" by Home Office assurances.

This is the same Home Office that has taken extraordinary measures to make Britain "secure," including inveigling UK ISPs into spying on their users' clicks, IMs, and emails, ordering them to retain all this personal information for years so that government snoops can consult it at will. They have also ushered in an unparalleled surveillance state characterized by CCTVs on every corner; illegal, indefinite DNA-logging of people who are exonerated of crimes (including children); they also attempted to exempt Members of Parliament from having to disclose the details of their expenses to the public.

It's hard to imagine the Home Office failing worse at protecting the public.

In an e-mail dated August 2007, an unnamed Home Office official wrote to Phorm's legal representative and said: "My personal view accords with yours, that even if it is "interception", which I am doubtful of, it is lawfully authorised under section 3 by virtue of the user's consent obtained in signing up to the ISPs terms and conditions…"

The Home Office official wrote to Phorm: "If we agree this, and this becomes our position do you think your clients and their prospective partners will be comforted."

Jim Killock, executive director of privacy campaigners, the Open Rights Group, said: "The Home Office's job is to uphold the law: not to reinterpret it for commercial interests. It's extraordinary, when you think of the blatant disregard Phorm showed towards UK laws in its secret trials, that this sort of lax attitude should be shown."

Home Office 'colluded with Phorm'