Downing Street Petition Website & Phorm Claim

Paul Hancocks made this Freedom of Information request to Prime Minister’s Office

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Dear Sir or Madam,

The Downing Street Petition Website shows a petition created 3 March 2008 which called for "the Prime Minister to investigate the Phorm technology and if found to breach UK or European privacy laws then ban all ISP’s from adopting it’s use. Additionally the privacy laws should be reviewed to cover any future technologies such as Phorm." I signed that petition, so did my father who is a General Practitioner.

The company "Phorm" has created a website which refers specifically to the petition:

Phorm's new website states the following:

"The website managers at 10 Downing Street recognised their mistake in allowing a misleading petition to appear on their site, and have since provided assurances to Phorm that they will not permit this to happen again"

Under the FOI Act, would you please release the following details:

a) Any internal communications where the website managers or the Prime Minister state that they made a mistake in permitting the petition to take place. If there is no such material, could you ask the website managers if they do feel they made a mistake?

b) A copy of the communication in which assurances to Phorm are given that your colleagues at the Number 10 Website will not permit this to happen again.

I would also be most grateful if you could confirm what the process is for generating responses to petitions on the Downing Street Website. My father and I are most interested in what the Prime Minister's view on the petition request is and should very much like to read it.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Hancocks

Paul Hancocks left an annotation ()

One point of note for readers of this FOI request:

The petition on the Downing Street website clearly stated "IF found to breach UK or European privacy laws" (my capitalisation of the word 'if' here to emphasise the point)

On the Phorm website recently launched, Phorm claims, "The wording of the petition deployed the usual scare tactics and implied that Phorm’s technology was illegal".

It would appear from the wording on the petition that it does not claim the technology is illegal, because it questions this through the use of the 'If' word.

The FOI request above is made specifically to ensure that the facts of the public debate Phorm has entered into are correct. I would like to ensure that Government, their agents and the public who signed the petition are not misrepresented.

Florence S left an annotation ()

I also read this petition then signed it as to me this was worded correctly and did say "if". I also would like to read the answers to this FOI plus the response to the petition.

Francis Davey left an annotation ()

NB: you cannot use an FOI request to ask someone to do something. While (to me) it seems quite reasonable to contain a request for action in a communication which is an FOI request it can cause some confusion internally in some public bodies.

I say this to clarify that *under FOI* the Prime Minister's Office only have to answer the questions asked so its no use asking for an internal review/going to the ICO if they do not respond to "could you ask
the website managers if they do feel they made a mistake?" which though it looks like a question in form is really asking them to do something.

Obviously if I was the Prime Minister's Office I would not thank Phorm for dragging me into this and I might make some direct communication with them about it and you have a perfect right to apply political pressure to make them (eg via your MP).

Feargal Hogan left an annotation ()

The original petition (now closed) is here:

Paul Hancocks left an annotation ()

@ Francis - Thank you. I am very aware of what can be requested under FOI, and whilst I have always found that public bodies are very helpful when requests are made I understand your point, and it is worth making to help anyone new to the site here.

For all interested readers: Oddly, in a very strange move, the website owner "Phorm" has, without any explanation, completely removed the statement they made which I quoted in my request.

One can only presume that it was either an untruth or at least something the Prime Minister's Office have taken issue with.

I would of course still like to know what the answer to the above request is because it will give that very interesting answer on the integrity or otherwise of the website owner who wishes to have the trust of the customers of ISPs (such as BT Broadband)

Some people might already have made up their minds; I shall wait, on the edge of my seat. And I apologise to the website team and the Prime Miister's office because it really should not be necessary to waste their tme and resources on these matters.

Paul Hancocks

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have not received the usual 'Acknowledgement' to the FOI request I sent in (see here:

I appreciate that acknowledgement is not a formal requirement within the FOI Act, but could you confirm receipt? Will a response be sent by 28th May or sooner?

Many thanks.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Hancocks

Prime Minister’s Office

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Hancocks,

Please find attached as you requested.

Kind regards,

Yasmine Edwards

FOI Team

Cabinet Office

Tel: 020 7276 2473

The Cabinet Office computer systems may be monitored and communications
carried on them recorded, to secure the effective operation of the system
and for other lawful purposes.

show quoted sections

Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

Prime Minister’s Office

1 Attachment

Please see the attached letter.

show quoted sections

P. John left an annotation ()

Paul Hancocks left an annotation ()

An interesting response providing all the information I requested because it is all the information I expected the team at Downing Street to have.

Now, unless Phorm Inc does have evidence of a communication from the Downing Street team or their website managers, the claim they published on their website was clearly nothing but a lie.

For information:
1) The webpage in question is referenced in the FOI request above.
2) The web page in question contained the claim for less than 48 hours
3) The quoted and disputed text was edited out of the Phorm web page and replaced with nothing (no explanation for its removal)
4) The web page states "Posted on April 27th, 2009 at 4:43 pm by Admin" and this date/time stamp is the original time stamp of the post containing the apparently false claim
5) The web page date/time stamp did NOT change when Phorm's claim was removed

Finally, remember that the Phorm web site has been created by Phorm because they "have decided to expose the smears and set out the true story" and so I recommend you "judge the facts for yourself" (as recommended on the StopPhoulPlay website homepage itself at present)

Indeed, do judge the facts yourself.

Is it any wonder that there are people opposed to having their internet communication examined by software and systems designed and created by Phorm Inc.

Whilst I think it's a great shame that we have to spend the tax payers' money on obtaining this kind of information from central government being able to do so is a sign of a mature democracy. We must ensure that this right remains and that situations such as the covert trial of systems designed to maximise usage of personal information are not happening without the fully informed consent of those involved.

For more on this, drop by Private individuals who are members of the forum there have visited the European Commission this week. They were invited to discuss the issue of "Deep Packet Inspection" for the purpose of advertising (what Phorm's system Webwise does). They are currently in the process of taking the UK through to court action for not upholding basic rights of private communication which are enshrined in EU law (BT Retail and Phorm covert Webwise trials 2006 & 2007)

Do tell your friends about this. Tell them about BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk who are all apparently signed up to Phorm's system. If you'd like to see what the BBC thinks about having their own web pages (paid for by license fee payers) used by Phorm visit the FOI request which exposes their intelligent discussion in their internal emails:

If people do nothing then we all allow companies to install these systems and we will lose our right to have secure, private, unexamined 1 to 1 communication between us and others. That's why I asked the FOI question above and that's why, if you've done nothing yet, you should do something too.

John Cross left an annotation ()

At the time of writing the following Wikipedia page includes a link to this request in its list of references:

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