Police Looking Into Allegations Phorm Wined and Dined Officer

TechWeekEurope learns the police are investigating claims one of its officers was taken to lunch by Phorm in 2010

The City of London Police is looking into allegations one of its officers was provided hospitality by Phorm in 2010, when there was still much controversy surrounding BT’s trialling of the behavioural advertising software.

A document found by privacy campaigner Alex Hanff, who in 2010 pressed for a prosecution over BT’s use of Phorm, appears to show a detective sergeant was taken to lunch on 5 July 2010 by the firm. It was only in April 2011 that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided the case was not worth a court hearing, saying it was not “in the public interest”.

Calls for a fresh investigation

Back in 2008, the City of London Police refused to take up the case, saying it would not initiate a formal investigation. According to Hanff,  the officer taken out by Phorm in 2010 was overseeing the initial probe and was asked by the force to investigate the company after the CPS requested it take another look at the case.

Today, the police confirmed they were looking  into whether the officer was wined and dined by Phorm and why. “The City of London Police is aware of this allegation, and while no formal complaint has been received, the force is reviewing the information available to it before deciding the best course of action,” a spokesperson told TechWeekEurope. “It is worth highlighting that City of London Police were not involved in an investigation into BT Phorm and that the decision not to investigate was prompted by CPS advice.”

Hanff, who suggested the officer had been “wined and dined” by Phorm, contacted the CPS, but could not reach the appropriate lawyer. “The Crown Prosecution Service received a telephone call from Mr Hanff on 22nd March 2012 which did not reach the relevant lawyer, who was at court. The CPS will be writing to Mr Hanff in due course in order to ascertain the nature of his query,” a spokesperson said.

Phorm said it had no comment on the matter.

When Hanff alerted TechWeekEurope to his findings last month,  he said he would be requesting the CPS relaunch its investigation into Phorm and BT from scratch with a neutral police force carrying out the investigation.

“I will also be filing a complaint against [the officer] for professional misconduct – that complaint has to first go to the City of London Police internal professional standards board and then a formal complaint to the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission],” Hanff said.

“Obviously I am pretty angry at the discovery…  I will be using every facility available to make sure this matter is investigated and appropriate action is taken as a result of that investigation.”

Hanff has also filed a Freedom of Information request, asking the City of London Police to provide communications between Phorm and the detective sergeant, dates of their meetings and who else was present.

BT’s trials of Phorm in 2006/2007 were heavily criticised, as some claimed they were illegal. The ISP eventually decided to drop any involvement with Phorm in 2009 after the furore. The following year, the European Commission sued the government for not acting over the case. The EC said it did not believe UK law complied with “EU rules on consent to interception and on enforcement by supervisory authorities.”

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