Cyber Ramblings - Jul 10, 2001

10 July 2001
Compiled by Kevin Smith

EU Committee Critical of US

A European Parliament research committee has approved a resolution requesting that the U.S. government stop monitoring European citizens’ e-mail and telephone activities. The committee has concluded that the suspected U.S. surveillance system, "Echelon," does exist and that its operation is in breach of E.U. privacy laws.

According to Newsbytes, the resolution is expected to be presented before the full European Parliament in September. It demands that the U.S. government negotiate an agreement with the European Union to respect the privacy rights of individual citizens. In addition, it calls for support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Such support could help because resolutions of the European Union are not binding on the United States.

Although the U.S. government has never admitted the existence of the Echelon system, the committee clearly believes that a U.S. spy network is in operation. It has urged E.U. citizens to protect their online privacy through the use of encryption software.

ISPs Could Be Forced to Store Personal Data

The Council of the European Union has unanimously agreed to a proposal which would allow individual member states to force ISPs and telcos to store personal data for the benefit of law enforcement agencies, according to civil liberties group Statewatch. The European Commission will ask the Parliament to reject the controversial proposal.

On Wednesday, the Council of the European Union (the 15 E.U. governments) agreed on their position on the new Directive on data protection and privacy in the telecommunications sector. This would mean inserting a "recital" to the existing directive which would allow member states to adopt laws at the national level to require network and services providers to retain traffic data for use by the law enforcement agencies.

Current E.U. law says that traffic data may only be kept for billing purposes (i.e. to meet the needs of the customer). The European Commission opposes the change of this law and, according to Statewatch, now hopes that the European Parliament will defend the existing law to protect citizens from surveillance and to avoid an enormous burden on ISPs and telcos. Under the co-decision procedure all three E.U. institutions have to agree on the new measure.

Report Finds More Than a Third of US Workers Watched While Online

A report by the U.S.-based Privacy Foundation has revealed that more than a third of U.S. workers using online services regularly are exposed to continuous e-mail and Internet surveillance. According to the report, 14 million workers are being constantly monitored for their online activities in the U.S., and on a global scale it estimates that the numbers may reach 27 million. In the report, the widespread use of e-mail and Internet surveillance in the workplace is primarily attributed to the low cost of monitoring technology. It may also be influenced by a growing awareness of the potential threat to security posed by employees abusing Internet and e-mail facilities. The research shows that the market for surveillance software is valued at $140 million per year, which breaks down to an average cost of about $5.25 for every individual employee monitored per year.

Harrods Wins Rights to over 60 URLs

The U.K. department store Harrods successfully won the rights to use over 60 Internet addresses incorporating the name "Harrods." The domain names were registered by Harrods (Buenos Aires) Ltd, which formerly operated an official Harrods store in Argentina on behalf of the U.K. enterprise. According to Newsbytes, the Argentinean Harrods store opened in 1912. In 1960, Harrods in Great Britain "disassociated" itself from the store in Argentina, although the name was used for the store until 1995. Thereafter, the Argentinean company registered the disputed "Harrods" domain names.

The Buenos Aires venture argued that it had continued to carry out various business transactions, which were unconnected to the running of department stores, using the "Harrods" name. In the domain name action in a US district court, it argued that these activities legitimized its registration of addresses including "" and ""

The court dismissed this argument, ruling that the registrations had been made in bad faith and were confusingly similar to the Harrods' department store trademark.

Court Rules in Favor of Text-Messaging Divorces

A court in Dubai has ruled that a man can divorce his wife by sending her a text message. Abdel Salam Mohammad Darwash sent a message to his wife's mobile phone which simply read: "Why are you late? You are divorced." Two hours after sending the message, Darwash regretted the decision and the couple went to court to determine whether or not they were in fact divorced. Under Islamic Sharia law, a man can divorce his wife by a stating "I divorce thee" three times. If he makes the statement only twice, the husband can change his decision within three months. Women do not share this right. The Dubai court found that a text message is a valid means of communicating the statement. Having had the case referred to them by the court, Islamic scholars assessed the validity of electronically communicated divorces by applying a fourfold test. The husband should be the sender of the text message, and he must also want the divorce. In addition, the phrasing must be unambiguous and the wife must personally receive the text message. Because Darwash declared divorce only once before changing his mind, the couple remains married, that is of course until he looses his patience again.

Webvan Closes Doors

Online grocer Webvan Group Inc. closed Monday and said it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors. The decision will lay off 2,000 employees and terminate the company's service to 750,000 active customers in seven markets--San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Portland, Ore. Launched in mid-1999, Webvan had been one of the Internet's highest profile businesses. Promising to revolutionize the supermarket industry by taking orders online and delivering groceries to customers' homes, Webvan had raised about $800 million from venture capitalists and Wall Street. But the company never came close to making money, losing $830 million since its inception. Webvan's board voted to close the company Friday, but didn't start closing its distribution centers until Sunday. Webvan also pulled the plug on its website Sunday.

nGame Inks Deal with Bell Mobility

British game developer nGame Ltd. has announced a deal with Canada's Bell Mobility to make nine games available to the carrier's mobile data customers. The deal will establish nGame as Bell Mobility's largest single provider of wireless games. This is nGame's first move into the Canadian market, according to Alex Green, nGame's vice president of business development. "This allows us to now reach Canadian users, and allows Canadians to play most of our flagship games," he told Wireless NewsFactor.

Cambridge, England-based nGame said it is positioned to exploit a huge global market for entertainment. The company operates three divisions: one that creates content for WAP (wireless application protocol) phones and digital interactive television; another that distributes the games; and a technology division that provides media servers and game development kits.

nGame has deals in North America with Sprint PCS, Yahoo!, AOL Mobile, AT&T Wireless, Qwest Wireless, Alltel and Voicesteam Wireless, plus a similar number of carriers in Europe.