- 29 Apr 09, 10:14 GMT
As part of the story I wrote about e-mails sent back and forth between the Home Office and the behavioural advertising service Phorm, I asked the government department seven specific questions.
Here are those questions and the answers supplied by a Home Office spokesperson.
(1) Why was the Home Office collaborating with and seeking feedback on a document from a company whose technology it was supposed to be assessing from a legal standpoint?
"The Home Office has responsibility for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which among other things deals with the interception of communications.
"The Home Office was interested in understanding how targeted online advertising would work and what some of the issues were. The Home Office was not assessing any particular form of technology. And as made clear (see paragraph below) it definitely was not providing any legal guidance.
"'This note offers informal guidance on issues relating to the provision of targeted online advertising services. It should not be taken as a definitive statement or interpretation of the law, which only the courts can give.'
"We listened to representations from one company about a complex area.
"The Home Office is not responsible for assessing the suitability or otherwise of any particular commercial product or method."
(2) Why was the Home Office asking Phorm, a commercial company, if its legal policy viewpoint would "comfort" Phorm and its clients?
"This refers to the government's desire that a balance is struck between safeguarding privacy and enabling legitimate technological innovation."
(3) How can the Home Office's position on Phorm remain valid given the information about the exchange of e-mails between Phorm and the office?
"The government has not endorsed Phorm or any other similar products.
"We appreciate the commercial companies want to develop new technology but we are committed to protecting the privacy of UK consumers and will ensuring that 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."
(4) Why was the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism giving advice to Phorm via the Home Office?
"The Office of Security and Counter Terrorism is part of the Home Office and will continue to work with business to understand their commercial developments whilst ensuring that there is a proper balance between privacy and public safety. We welcome companies sharing ideas and proposals for new products in commercial confidence as it offers both sides the opportunity to consider relevant issues, including the impact on public safety etc."
(5) According to Hansard, Lord West of Spithead told Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: "The Home Office has made no assessment of the legality of BT's trials or any specific targeted online advertising system."
Why do the e-mails between the Home Office and Phorm show that the document was drawn up with Phorm specifically in mind, but was made "generic" because of - as the e-mail states - "the importance which will be attached to whatever we say, by your clients, and by your clients' competitors (which is why I've not written it specific to Phorm but to the general principle)"?
"The Home Office has made no assessment of the legality of BT's trials or any other targeted on line advertising system. However in drawing up the generic Q&A the Home Office did have discussions with Phorm and they were invited to comment - but the Q&A was not written specifically for Phorm."
(6) Was Lord West aware that the policy had been drawn up in conjunction with Phorm?
"This was not a policy document and was not shared with ministers. It was Q&A produced to try to improve the understanding of the issues. As set out above Home Office met with Phorm and we wanted to ensure that we had understood their explanation of how target online advertising works."
(7) Did the Home Office send the document that it was preparing to other behavioural targeting advertising firms and ask them for their revisions and changes?
"No, but we would have shared it with other companies had they expressed an interest in it."
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