US Judge rejects Microsoft’s defense of overseas data

US Attorney Preet Bharara has argued that under a 1986 law governing electronic communications, Microsoft is required to share user data with authorities regardless of where the company has decided to store it


A judge on Thursday rejected a bid by Microsoft to derail a warrant demanding that email data from servers in Ireland be turned over to US prosecutors.


Microsoft vowed to battle on in the case, which is being closely watched by Internet companies eager to assure users around the world that their private information is not being freely shared with US authorities.


“The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court’s decision would not represent the final step in this process,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in an email reply to an AFP inquiry after the ruling by US District Judge Loretta Preska.


“We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people’s email deserves strong privacy protection in the US and around the world.”


Microsoft argued in court that the warrant, which would require the tech giant to turn over customer emails stored in a data centre in Dublin, should be nullified because it would give the US government excessive power to pry over private information.


A two-hour hearing ended with Preska denying Microsoft’s request to have the sub-poena quashed, according to a spokesperson for the US attorney in New York.


The legal battle comes amid rising concern about US surveillance following revelations of snooping disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.


Leading tech firms, including Apple and Verizon, have filed briefs supporting Microsoft.


Microsoft has argued that the customer emails, sought in this case in a Justice Department narcotics probe, are entitled to the same protections as paper letters sent by mail.


That means prosecutors should only be able to access the information in the electronic “cloud” with a warrant, and that the authority of such warrants ends at the US border.


Smith also has publicly contended that the case could leave US citizen’s privacy vulnerable to overseas prying if other counties opt for the same tactic.


But US Attorney Preet Bharara argued that under a 1986 law governing electronic communications, the tech giant is required to produce the data regardless of where Microsoft has decided to store it.


Gaza truce: Israel, Hamas agree to a 72-hour ceasefire

Delegations from both Israel and Palestine are going to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable truce


Israel and Hamas on Friday agreed to an unconditional 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza. The US has said the deal to be negotiated in Cairo by Israeli and Palestinians is an opportunity to find a long-term solution to end the deadly 25-day conflict that has claimed over 1,500 lives.


A joint statement issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the UN representative in Jerusalem, Special Coordinator Robert Serry, has "received assurances" that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.


The ceasefire will commence at 0500 GMT (8 AM local time) Friday and will last for 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place.


Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately go to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable truce. The two sides will raise all issues of concern in these talks.


"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," the statement said.


The ceasefire is "critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence," it said.


Egypt has invited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to send delegates to Cairo for truce talks, after the 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza was announced.


"Egypt emphasises the importance of both sides committing to the ceasefire so the negotiations can take place in a favourable atmosphere," the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.


The delegations are expected to start arriving in Cairo later today.


Since Israel began its offensive in Gaza on 8th July at least 1,450 Palestinians have been killed, along with 61 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians.


"This is not a time for congratulations and joy, or anything except a serious determination, a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead. This is a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's the opportunity to find the solution," Kerry, who fell short of winning a truce in Cairo last week, said.


US House approves return to deceptive airline ads

Do air passengers prefer to know full cost of their flight up-front or do they prefer to get hit with hidden fees and taxes at checkout?


Updated July 30


The US House of Representatives on Monday approved the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 bill, which, however contradictory to its title, would hide certain government taxes and fees from consumers until checkout. It now heads to the Senate.

Our original story follows.

When it comes to airfares, do consumers prefer to know the full cost of their flight up-front or do they prefer to get hit with hidden fees and taxes at checkout?

Congress and the airline industry seem to think consumers prefer the latter. The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, a bill supported by the bipartisan House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would void a 2012 rule that required airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in the base price of a ticket. The new bill would allow airlines to advertise deceptively low prices only to hit consumers with the full fare, generally 20 percent higher, at checkout.

Consumer groups have spoken against the proposed bill, and a petition protesting the act has over 22,000 signatures.

But supporters of the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn) along with 16 Republican and 16 Democrats, claim the full-fare advertising rule forces airlines to shoulder the blame when in fact government-related taxes and fees cause the rise in airfare.

“The cost of airline tickets will never be transparent as long as the Department of Transportation requires airlines to hide taxes, surcharges, and fees from consumers,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in an Orwellian press release.

According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, government taxes and fees account for $63 of a typical $300 domestic flight ticket. Should the Transparent Airfares Act become law, airlines would be able to advertise those $300 tickets as costing $237, tacking on the extra $63 only at checkout.

In effect, the airline industry is seeking to take advantage of the bait-and-switch advertising that remains ubiquitous in the rest of the travel industry – a “they lie, so why can’t we?” argument. Many hotels sneak “resort fees” onto bills (an estimated $2.1 billion of them in 2013), and almost all hotels and car-rental companies advertise a base price that doesn’t include the hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees that only show up at checkout.

The FTC refers to these practices as “Drip Pricing,” and it sent letters to 22 hotel operators in 2012 warning that such practices may be violating the law. Yet drip pricing remains an issue in the travel industry, and now airlines are looking to get back in on the fun.

Consumers, however, are the ones stuck playing a guessing game when advertised prices fail to match up with the actual prices. The only thing transparent about the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 is that the airline industry wants to benefit at the expense of its customers.



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