EU regulators to monitor Virgin Media surveillance

EU regulators to monitor Virgin Media surveillance

Summary: The EC plans to monitor Virgin Media's trial of deep packet inspection technology, which will inspect the activities of 1.6 million people


The European Commission has said it will "closely monitor" a planned UK trial of deep packet inspection technology by Virgin Media.

In November, the ISP announced plans to look at the traffic of 40 percent, or 1.6 million, of its subscribers, to gauge the level of illegal file-sharing on its networks. The company has said it will not inform those customers that their data packets are being scrutinised, saying there is no need to notify participants as their identifying details will be anonymised.

Virgin Media has not been in contact with the European Commission about the trial, the Commission told ZDNet UK on Friday.

"The Commission confirms its commitment to the protection of privacy and security of electronic communications as one of its priorities, and it keeps a close eye on the further development of technologies in favour of businesses and consumers, in order to ensure they are used in a way that complies with EU rules," said the Commission in an email statement.

"The Commission's services will closely monitor this case."

The European Commission is interested in applications of deep packet inspection as it relates to UK law. It is conducting a long-standing investigation into whether the UK government breached pan-European legal regulations when it refused to investigate secret trials of Phorm behavioural tracking conducted by BT.

Virgin Media will use deep packet inspection technology called CView, by surveillance tech company Detica, in the trial. The dates for the trial have not been made public by the ISP.

However, the trial has come in for criticism from privacy campaigners, with Privacy International vowing to take action if it takes place.

"If Virgin Media goes ahead with the trial,we will press a criminal complaint with the [Metropolitan Police], because as far as we're concerned, Virgin would be in breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act," said Alex Hanff, head of ethical networks at the organisation.

Hanff said UK surveillance law, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), does not state that ISPs have the right to monitor communications for evidence of file-sharing without first obtaining a court order.

Topics: Government UK, Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Oh dear, here we go again!

    We must always fight the use of these technologies, at least out of the genuine concern as to how they can be used in the future to manage and control all aspects of our lives. That would (will) be an unfortunate legacy to our children and grandchildren.

    I do stand against 'illegal file sharing', but surely this should have been nipped in the bud some ten years ago, before it became a pervasive and all embracing culture, a culture which now threatens genuine freedom as opposed to phony freedom.

    As a Virgin user, I will consider my options if they go ahead with a 'secret' trial. Already I am concerned with their recent move to Google for the provision their email service, both on privacy concerns and since I can no longer set up and use the service satisfactorily from my desktop, certainly not in the way I'm used to.

    I've always considered that the law of the land already had sufficient tools to deal with 'illegal' file sharing' without infringing on bona fide freedoms. Equally, I've alway stood against the spurious freedoms argued by a vociferous minority and which will eventually mitigate against the wider and genuine freedoms of everyone to the detriment of a free, responsible and decent society, as fought and sacrificed for by our parents and grandparents in the Second World War, as indeed we stood against communism more recently and cheered the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Now we seem to be rushing headlong towards using technology to adopt all the things that, as a nation, we once rightly stood against.

    I'm also concerned that there a subtle, or not so subtle, move towards the privatisation of law and law enforcement.
    The Former Moley
  • Yup..

    I've had enough of virgin to, think I'm going to be doing my speaking with my feet, they wasn't much of a choice before against fiber cab's but now open reach are rolling that changes things.

    Virgin's quality of service has completely disappeared here at this end for me, and their outright lies on package prices has gone on for far to long now, the amount of times they have quoted one price to me for an upgraded service and then went on to hit me with hidden charges they completely failed to mention is enough.

    If I walked up to Richard Branson in the street put my hand in he's pocket removed he's wallet and then tried to walk away, only to be challenged by him, to which id reply sorry but I did tell you in advance, and they was nobody else here to deal with he's complaint, I'd promptly be arrested within 10 minutes flat for taking money's that did not belong to me.

    Yet they do it every single bill month on top of which they take money's in advance preceding to the following month in the name of collecting up front end of service money's for when you leave.

    baring in mind if you want to leave the service you haft to give them 2 months notice, and also pay them again the last monthly fee up front, don't ask me where the logic is I give up on that a long time ago.

    Point being they always find a way to diddle you, the fact that they take moneys upfront for a time period off into the future, that hasn't evening come about yet I totally find bizarre.

    Unless of course thats just good practice on their side, in the sense that they already know there going to deliver you a crap service, rip you off in advance, and then in anticipation of you leaving sting you once again before you even know your going to leave upset.

    At this rate it won't belong before we phone up for a service from a company and just give them our sort code and account number's and just tell them to help themselves, infact lets just go one better and just get our wages paid into there accounts directly.
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