EU goes after United Kingdom for online privacy violations | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 01.10.2010
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EU goes after United Kingdom for online privacy violations

European Commission says that Britain's online privacy laws are inadequate and do not follow the EU-wide standard. Legal proceedings began 18 months ago when a British company tracked users online without their consent.

The European Commission has been pursuing legal action against the UK since April 2009

The UK has faced legal action since April 2009

In a statement late Thursday, the European Commission said that it will refer the United Kingdom to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg over the country's violation of online privacy last year.

"Specifically, the Commission considers that UK law does not comply with EU rules on consent to interception and on enforcement by supervisory authorities," the statement said.

The Commission had previously begun legal proceedings against the United Kingdom in April 2009 after a British company, Phorm, began tracking users online and serving them targeted advertising without their consent.

The British internet service provider, BT, began testing the service without permission of its customers, a move that potentially violates EU privacy law to not use someone's personal information without permission.

Some online privacy watchers applauded the move.

"The action is very long overdue and very welcome," said Joe McNamee, of the European Digital Rights Initiative, a Brussels non-profit organization, in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle. "Now that the general Data Protection Directive is being reviewed, this example should inspire the Commission to adopt a more rigorous approach towards implementation by Member States."

The UK said it was disappointed in the European Commission's decision

The UK said it was "disappointed" in the European Commission's decision

UK law not in line with EU law

The Commission said that the UK violates the 2002 ePrivacy Directive by not having an independent national authority to supervise interception of such communications.

Brussels further argued that current British law violates EU law by allowing for such interception when the person intercepting the communications has "reasonable grounds for believing" that consent has been given.

"These UK provisions do not comply with EU rules defining consent as 'freely given, specific and informed indication of a person's wishes,'" the statement said.

Finally, the Commission added that British law did not go far enough in terms of prohibiting and sanctioning unlawful interception of private information.

Currently, in the United Kingdom, such sanctions are only limited to "intentional interception," when EU law dictates that member states must prohibit such unlawful interception regardless of intentionality.

A spokesman for the British government told the Financial Times that changes were being planned to address the Commission's concerns.

"We are disappointed that the Commission have decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice," he added.

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: John Blau

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