The European Commission is to assess the legality of software being used by Virgin Media to analyse file-sharing in the UK
Virgin Media may have to put its plans to trial a tool that can monitor illegal file-sharing over the Internet on hold, after the European Commission said it would investigate the legality of the software.
It was last November when Virgin Media broke ranks with its fellow service providers and said that it was trialling new technology from data collection specialist Detica, which would allow it to monitor file sharing over the Internet.
The government outlined its plans to cut off illegal file-sharers in the Queen’s Speech last year, with its Digital Economy Bill, which gives Lord Mandelson the ability to get tough on file-sharing. But the government’s clamp down has not gone down well with the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), as well as ISP TalkTalk.
Virgin Media has always said that the software poses no risk to privacy. CView apparently uses a form of deep packet inspection technology, so that it can identify actual file names, making it possible to accurately assess what content is legal and what is not. However CView also removes any IP addresses at the outset, so that no activity can be tied to individual customers.
But Alexander Hanff, head of ethical networks at Privacy International, told BBC News that the use of such software is in breach of current UK law.
“Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), intercepting communications is a criminal offence regardless of what you do with the data,” he said. Hanff said he would file a criminal complaint if Virgin Media deployed CView.
He also said the software’s deep packet inspection is similar to that used by ad firm Phorm that was trialled by BT, which permitted the monitoring and targeting of individual Internet users, also without their consent.
“We’ve engaged with all the relevant bodies, including Ofcom, the ICO and the EC, to ensure they have the information they need to make an informed judgement about our planned trial,” a Virgin Media spokesperson told eWEEK Europe.
“CView works at a core-network level, and simply analyses – anonymously – the percentage of data that flows across the network that is copyrighted and being shared unlawfully,” Virgin Media added. “We continue to communicate our intentions openly and transparently and it’s important for us to reassure our customers that CView does not identify or store individual customers’ data and does not identify individual use or behaviour.”
A Virgin Media spokesperson told eWEEK Europe that the trial hasn’t started yet, “but we do expect it to begin shortly.”