Phorm "edited and approved" Home Office advice

Government checked whether its legal advice on Phorm's technology suited the advertising company, according to leaked emails

Barry Collins
28 Apr 2009

The Home Office allegedly checked whether its interpretation of the law suited Phorm, before issuing advice on whether the controversial advertising service was legal.

The Home Office and Phorm entered a dialogue about the company's services back in August 2007, after Phorm requested that the Government take a view on its technology.

Leaked emails sent to the BBC suggest that Phorm helped edit and approve the Home Office advice.

In an email sent to Phorm in January 2008, a Home Office official writes: "I should be grateful if you would review the attached document, and let me know what you think."

After Phorm made deletions and amendments to the document, the Home Office sent another email to the company stating: "If we agree this, and this becomes our position do you think your clients and their prospective partners will be comforted."

Shocking behaviour

Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Miller, who recently chaired a Commons debate on Phorm and its ilk, described the Home Office's conduct as "shocking".

"Shockingly, freedom of information requests have just revealed that the Home Office was consulting Phorm on whether the Government's interpretation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was an analysis that suited Phorm," she writes in The Guardian."It also asked if Phorm wanted to amend the interpretation."

Miller claims the Government won't comment on the matter, "perhaps because the Home Office would like to utilise similar technologies itself."

A Home Office spokesperson told PC Pro that "any suggestion of 'collusion' is totally unfounded.

"We have repeatedly said since these documents were released a year ago that the Government has not endorsed Phorm or its technology.

"We are committed to protecting the privacy of UK consumers and will ensure any new technology of this sort is applied in an appropriate and transparent manner, in full accordance with the law and with proper regulation from the appropriate authority."

Phorm fightback

Phorm also denies any wrongdoing. "In the United Kingdom, only the courts may interpret the law," the company claims. "The Home Office or any other Government department may share its interpretation of the law with its interlocutors. The final decision concerning the legality of a system such as Phorm's, however, lies squarely in the courts of law.

"Furthermore, it is normal practice for businesses in whatever field they operate to engage with Government regarding their services. Even the BBC engages with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to defend its legal right to be funded by imposing a licence fee, for example."

Phorm's statement was published on the company's newly-launched website,, which describes itself as "the website that hits back at the 'privacy pirates'' smear campaign against Phorm."

The website claims that Phorm "has been the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of online 'privacy pirates' who appear very determined to harm our company."

"Their energetic blogging and letter-writing campaigns, targeted at journalists, MPs, EU officials and regulators, distort the truth and misrepresent Phorm's technology."

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