UK internet privacy 'breach' sparks legal action

Thursday 30 September 2010 11:59 BST

The European Commission is taking the UK to court for breaking EU rules on safeguarding internet privacy.

The move follows complaints to the Commission from British internet users that they have been targeted by advertisers based on an analysis of their "internet traffic".

A Commission statement today said it first launched legal proceedings in April last year amid concerns about how the UK authorities dealt with citizens' concerns over the use of "behavioural advertising" by internet service providers.

The complaints were handled by the UK Information Commissioner's Office, the UK personal data protection authority and police forces responsible for investigating cases of illegal interception of communications.

Last October, the Commission asked the UK to bring its laws in line with EU privacy and personal data protection requirements.

Today's decision to go to court reflects the Commission's view that the rules are still being breached.

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

It says there is no independent UK national authority to supervise the interception of some communications, even though such an authority is required under the EU's "ePrivacy" and "Data Protection" Directives.

Current UK law also authorises interception of communications "not only where the persons concerned have consented to interception but also when the person intercepting the communications has 'reasonable grounds for believing' that consent to do so has been given."

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

Thirdly, said the Commission, current UK law prohibiting and providing sanctions in case of unlawful interception are limited to "intentional" interception only, whereas EU law requires EU countries to impose penalties for any unlawful interception regardless of whether committed intentionally or not.

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