EU regulators to monitor Virgin Media surveillance

The EC plans to monitor Virgin Media's trial of deep packet inspection technology, which will inspect the activities of 1.6 million people
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

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.

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