Commission refers UK to court over privacy laws

The European Commission has asked the ECJ to rule on whether the UK's privacy laws are adequate, in a case that began with complaints about BT's trials of Phorm advertising technology
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The European Commission has referred the UK government to the European Court of Justice over its implementation of privacy law.

The UK government does not have adequate data protection and privacy laws, the Commission contends. On Thursday, the Commission announced that it had referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

"The action is because of a loophole in UK law [that] doesn't ensure a [privacy] complaint is looked into properly," the Commission's digital agenda spokesman Jonathan Todd told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

The Home Office, which is in charge of UK interception law, said in a statement that it was planning to make changes to UK interception laws.

"We can confirm that we are in discussions with the Commission about this directive and are disappointed the Commission has decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice," said a Home Office spokesman. "We are planning to make changes to address the Commission's concerns and will be setting out more detail on any necessary amendments or legislation in due course."

The Commission's infringement action against the UK government was opened in April 2009, following the UK government's failure to take action over complaints about BT's trials of Phorm's behavioural advertising technology. That technology monitored people's web-surfing habits to better target advertising at them.

The Commission has referred the UK to the ECJ as it considers there is no independent national authority that can hear complaints about the interception of communications.

Current UK law, such as Ripa, authorises interception when the person intercepting the communications has "reasonable grounds for believing" that consent has been given, which is not stringent enough, according to the Commission.

In addition, UK law only prohibits unlawful intentional interception, whereas European law prohibits any unlawful interception.

Should the court rule in the Commission's favour, the UK government will be obliged to take action to change national law. If UK government inaction continues, then it will be liable for a fine.

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