Global Dispatches

An international news digest

U.S., Europe 'Certain' of Continued Data Sharing

BRUSSELS -- European and U.S. officials last week downplayed fears that airline flights from Europe to the U.S. might be disrupted at the end of September, when an agreement on the sharing of personal data about passengers is scheduled to expire as the result of a new court order.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that the 2-year-old agreement to share with American authorities information about passengers flying to the U.S. is illegal. However, it temporarily left the agreement in place, giving the European Commission and the 25 member countries of the European Union until Sept. 30 to come up with another solution with the U.S.

"We need continuity," said Franco Frattini, the European commissioner for justice and home affairs. Frattini added that he is "certain" an agreement can be reached to avert a crisis in trans- Atlantic travel.

"I am confident that we will find a solution that will keep the data flowing and the planes flying," agreed Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security .

Despite those assurances, resolving the matter "is not an easy situation," said Chris Kaner, a lawyer in the Brussels office of Hunton & Williams LLP who focuses on data protection issues. "The court decision throws everything up for re-examination."

The May 2004 agreement to share names, addresses, travel schedules and other passenger records was signed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. But the European Parliament opposed the pact and appealed to the Court of Justice, arguing that the U.S. doesn't have data protection rules that are equivalent to the ones in Europe.

-- Paul Meller, IDG News Service

Loss at Vodafone Leads to Layoffs, IT Changes

NEWBURY, England -- Vodafone Group PLC last week reported a massive loss for the fiscal year that ended March 31 and announced restructuring plans that include an overhaul of its IT organization. Nonetheless, the company said its business operations continue to perform well.

The loss did prompt the mobile network operator to make moves to cut costs, including plans to eliminate about 400 jobs at its corporate headquarters here, mostly in marketing. Vodafone employs about 60,000 workers worldwide.

The company also said it plans to centralize its IT operations in order to reduce the number of its data centers and consolidate systems administration activities. In addition, it expects to move many IT functions from Europe to locations with cheaper labor costs.

Vodafone's fiscal-year net loss of ¿17.2 billion ($32.2 billion U.S.) included one-time charges of ¿23.5 billion ($44 billion) from write-downs that reduced the asset value of business operations in several countries. The company said revenue increased 10% year over year, to ¿29.4 billion ($55.1 billion).

-- Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service

China Enacts Internet Copyright Regulations

BEIJING -- Internet pirates will face fines of up to 100,000 renminbi ($12,500 U.S.) for unauthorized use of copyrighted material on the Internet under new Chinese regulations.

Starting July 1, uploading or downloading copyrighted material from the Internet will require the copyright holder's permission, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported last week. The new regulations also ban the use, production or importation of devices capable of evading copyrights.

U.S. industry groups such as the Business Software Alliance, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America have long pressured the Chinese government to improve its record on fighting the use of pirated software and media.

However, "there is serious question as to whether the government will be able to enforce [the regulations] in any meaningful way," said David Wolf, CEO of Beijing-based consulting firm Wolf Group Asia.

-- Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service

Data Thieves Target German Speakers

MOSCOW -- Spam e-mail containing a password-stealing Trojan horse program surfaced last week, using a German-language pitch that claimed that an attached file was an official update to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

The attached malware is a Trojan called Sinowal that was first detected last December, said Roel Schouwenberg, a senior research engineer at antivirus software developer Kaspersky Lab in Moscow. The malicious code is programmed to try to harvest username and password information for certain banking Web sites in Europe, he said.

Schouwenberg described Sinowal as a type of "man-in-the-middle" malware. He said that even if an end user starts a Secure Sockets Layer trans-action with a bank, the Trojan can insert HTML code that causes a pop-up window to open that asks for a username and password.

-- Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service

Singapore to Upgrade, Unify E-gov Systems

SINGAPORE -- Singapore officials last week announced plans to spend 2 billion Singapore dollars ($1.3 billion U.S.) to overhaul the country's e-government systems in order to provide citizens with easier online access to services and data.

Government agencies in Singapore already offer most of their services over the Internet. But "we have to move beyond bundling information and services at the front end to re-engineering proc-esses at the back end," said Raymond Lim, second minister for finance and foreign affairs.

The five-year improvement plan, called iGov2010, will integrate systems to provide access to most data via a single Web site, according to Lim.

He said the plan will also improve online access for users without personal Internet access by increasing from five to 25 the number of CitizenConnect centers, which offer free Internet access and assistance.

-- Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service

Briefly Noted

  • Dell Inc. last week opened a 55,000-square-meter factory in Xiamen, China, doubling its manufacturing capacity in the country. The facility will produce computers for customers in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Dell's other Chinese plant, also located in Xiamen, makes systems that are sold within China itself. -- Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service
  • The Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association said that chip sales by Taiwanese vendors climbed 28% in this year's first quarter to 307 billion New Taiwanese dollars ($9.6 billion U.S.). Chip makers based in Taiwan sold devices worth 240.7 billion New Taiwanese dollars ($7.5 billion) in the same period last year, according to the trade group. -- Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service
  • Accenture Ltd. last week announced the opening of a facility in Warsaw that will offer business proc-ess outsourcing services in more than a dozen European languages. Hamilton, Bermuda-based Accenture said the BPO center will eventually employ as many as 1,000 people and provide services in areas such as finance, accounting, supply chain management and human resources. -- Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service
  • Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. in Makati City said it has acquired New York-based SPI Technologies Inc. as part of an effort to become the largest provider of business process outsourcing services in the Philippines. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. SPI was founded in the Philippines in 1980 and moved its headquarters to New York last year. -- Computerworld Philippines
  • Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. will offer a program to help businesses migrate to SAP AG 's Web-based applications, under an agreement announced last week at SAP's European user conference in Paris. The agreement calls for Mumbai, India-based Tata to market integration and migration services to users that are adopting SAP's enterprise services architecture. -- John Blau, IDG News Service

Global Fact

44%: Percentage of the U.K.'s population without home access to the Internet.

Source: Point Topic Ltd., London

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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