Tech privacy ally Russ Feingold leads in Wisconsin Senate race

Nov's Senate election in Wisconsin could gain Silicon Valley a key ally in Washington in the high-tech industry's battle against the US government's growing appetite for more access to private data. Democrat Russ Feingold, 63, the only lawmaker to vote against the USA Patriot Act in 2001, leads incumbent Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the state in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Sen Johnson, 61, rode a wave of support from conservative Tea Party activists to victory six years ago, sweeping Feingold out of office. But polls in 2016 have consistently shown Feingold ahead, although recent surveys show a tighter race. Privacy advocates and former Feingold staffers said they expected Feingold, if returned to office, to be sympathetic to the privacy concerns of technology companies and civil liberties groups on issues such as encryption and domestic spying, at a time when many lawmakers are being pressured to confront security threats from Islamic State and other militant groups.

US court rules for music companies in MP3tunes copyright case

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that record companies and music publishers that once formed part of EMI Group Ltd could pursue additional copyright infringement claims in a long-running lawsuit over defunct online music storage firm MP3tunes.

The court also rejected an appeal by MP3tunes founder Michael Robertson, who was ordered to pay $12.2 million after a federal jury in 2014 found him liable for copyright infringement. The rulings marked the latest turn in protracted court battles between the music industry and online content providers. They followed prior copyright litigation that led to the shutdown of another company Robertson founded,

Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for US intelligence

Apparently, in 2015, Yahoo Inc secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming e-mails for specific information provided by US intelligence officials. The company complied with a classified US government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a US Internet company agreeing to a spy agency's request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an e-mail or an attachment, apparently. Apparently, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer's decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.

European Union seeks to spur fast broadband roll-out with telecoms reform

The European Union aims to spur the roll-out of fast broadband across the 28-nation bloc by relaxing rules that force telecommunication companies to open up their networks to competitors. Under planned reforms of the sector, national telecoms regulators will be required to take into account existing commercial agreements between operators when deciding whether to force them to allow competitors access to their networks. Fostering investment in new fiber-optic networks, to meet rising demand for data services, is a major plank of the European Commission's reform of its 15-year-old telecoms laws. National regulators will also have to weigh up the range of retail choices available to users to ensure that regulation is not more of a burden than necessary on operators' decisions to invest.

The costs of running optic fiber - which can deliver speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second - into households are high. Telecoms operators such as Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia have long complained that the current rules forcing them to open up their networks to competitors at regulated prices do not allow them get a decent return on investment. According to the Commission's figures, 68 percent of homes in the EU have access to broadband with speeds of at least 30 megabits per second. Malta, Belgium and the Netherlands have the highest coverage while Italy, France and Greece have the lowest. National regulators will be required to monitor the network investment decisions of operators and will have the power to sanction them if they deviate from their declared intentions without justification, the document says. The aim is to protect operators who lay fast broadband networks first in areas where there is little financial incentive, such as rural areas, and where the arrival of a second operator would undermine the first's business case. The Commission, the EU's executive body, will also seek to encourage operators to co-invest in shared rollouts of fiber-to-the-home by offering them lighter access rules in return.

EU: Europe needs to invest $800 billion in digital infrastructure to catch up with US

Europe needs to invest close to $800 billion in its digital infrastructure to catch up with the United States and China, said European Union Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. He also urged fellow Austrians to reject populist views that could deter technology experts from migrating to Europe to help drive development. If Europe can’t develop fibre-optic networks and next-generation high-speed 5G wireless applications and networks fast enough “we will lose, because important technological applications will not be possible any longer in our industry”, Oettinger said. Amazon and Google benefit from a US-wide data standard and have been able to collect data that gives them much broader knowledge of their customers’ needs than most European companies, he said. “Investments of €600-700bn ($670-780bn) are needed in the European area, according to our calculations,” Oettinger said.

FBI probes hacking of Democratic congressional group

The FBI is investigating a cyberattack against another US Democratic Party group, which may be related to an earlier hack against the Democratic National Committee, apparently. The previously unreported incident at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, and its potential ties to Russian hackers are likely to heighten accusations, so far unproven, that Moscow is trying to meddle in the US presidential election campaign to help Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The Kremlin denied involvement in the DCCC cyber-attack. Hacking of the party's e-mails caused discord among Democrats at the party's convention in Philadelphia (PA) to nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. The newly disclosed breach at the DCCC may have been intended to gather information about donors, rather than to steal money, apparently. It was not clear what data was exposed, although donors typically submit a variety of personal information including names, e-mail addresses and credit card details when making a contribution. It was also unclear if stolen information was used to hack into other systems. The DCCC raises money for Democrats running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The intrusion at the group could have begun as recently as June.

Facebook makes little progress in race, gender diversity

Facebook's employees are still mainly white or Asian males as the world's largest social network made little progress in hiring a more diverse talent pool over the past year. The findings in Facebook's annual diversity report reflects the scant progress made by Silicon Valley heavyweights in employing more women and minorities.

In June, Alphabet's Google released data on diversity, saying it had more black, Latino and female employees than in 2015, but still lagged its goal of mirroring the population. Women represented 33 percent of Facebook's global workforce as of June 30, compared with 32 percent a year earlier, the report said. Women held 27 percent of senior leadership roles, up from 23 percent a year earlier. Facebook said 3 percent of its senior leadership in the United States was black, up from 2 percent a year earlier. Among its US technology workers, Facebook made no progress among two groups. In both 2015 and 2016, Hispanics made up 3 percent of tech employees while blacks made up 1 percent. Facebook's overall US workforce includes 4 percent of Latinos and 2 percent of blacks, unchanged from last year, the report said. Asians represented 38 percent of Facebook's U.S. workforce and 21 percent of its senior leadership. The majority of Facebook's global tech employees, at 83 percent, are men, down marginally from last year's 84 percent.

Microsoft wins landmark appeal over seizure of foreign e-mails

A federal appeals court said Microsoft and other companies cannot be forced to turn over customer e-mails stored on servers outside the United States. The 3-0 decision by a panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York was a victory for privacy advocates, as well as for technology companies hoping to offer cloud computing and other services to customers around the world.

Circuit Judge Susan Carney said communications held by US service providers on servers located outside the United States are beyond the reach of domestic search warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law. "Congress did not intend the SCA's warrant provisions to apply extraterritorially," she wrote. "The focus of those provisions is protection of a user's privacy interests." Microsoft had been challenging a warrant seeking e-mails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland, in a narcotics case. It was believed to be the first US company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country. July 14's decision reversed a July 2014 ruling by then-Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the US District Court in Manhattan requiring Microsoft to turn over the e-mails. It also voided a contempt finding against the company.

Judge Rejects Apple Bid for Injunction against Samsung

Judge Lucy Koh of the US District Court, Northern District in San Jose (CA) rejected Apple’s latest bid for a permanent injunction against Samsung in another sign of the diminishing impact of the smartphone patent wars.

In her ruling, Judge Koh said Apple’s reputation as an innovator “has proved extremely robust” despite Samsung’s patent infringement. “Apple has not demonstrated that it will suffer irreparable harm to its reputation or goodwill as an innovator without an injunction,” Judge Koh wrote.

Oregon sues Oracle, claiming fraud over failed Obamacare website

The state of Oregon sued Oracle America and six of its top executives, accusing the software giant of fraud for failing to deliver a working website for the Affordable Care Act program.

The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court, claims that fraud, lying and "a pattern of racketeering" by Oracle cost the state and its Cover Oregon program hundreds of millions of dollars.

Oregon paid Oracle about $240.3 million for a system that never worked, the suit said. The Oracle-built site for the Cover Oregon never worked and Oregonians were forced to submit paper applications in a hastily-organized process.