From Taiwan, an advance on a tantalising rumour: Toshiba, Fujitsu and Vaio look to be seriously considering a merger of their laptop-making operations.Vaio, the laptop spin-off from Sony, publicly floated the idea in late 2015. At that time it was thought that Toshiba would probably like the idea, as relieving itself of its laptop division in a declining market would mean one less thing to worry about as it wrestles with its accounting scandal. Fujitsu's LifeBook products are well-regarded, but are not big sellers globally.Now Taiwan's Digitimes says news of the merger is causing nervousness among the nation's manufacturers, who fear consolidation of contracts if the three do pursue a deal.The rumour is hard to dismiss, as PC sales are falling fast and none of the three companies make it into the world's top half-dozen vendors, meaning they're selling fewer than 20 million units a year.Even if the three are doing well in Japan, that market's not in great shape: analyst firm IDC's assessment is that “a weaker Yen, high inventory, and lack of Windows 10 marketing continued to constrain PC sales” in 2015.Consolidation into a combined brand could help to defend the Japanese market and make it easier to compete abroad. It's even possible that the three brands could survive, with Vaio in consumer-land, Fujitsu concentrating on the business sales its global services business brings and Toshiba straddling both markets as it already does today.
IPB The first Parliamentary report into the UK's draft Investigatory Powers Bill, commonly referred to as the "Snoopers' Charter", says it has great potential to damage the nation's technology sector and the public should therefore pick up the tab for the £2bn (US$2.85bn) or so it will require to implement the data-harvesting legislation.That's the gist of the report into the Bill, issued today by the UK's Science and Technology Select Committee.The report argues that complying with the Bill will cost business so much that they'll be disadvantaged when competing with foreign rivals. The report also worries about reputational costs associated with the Bill's provisions for state hacking and mandatory decryption.Focusing on the technological aspects of the Snoopers' Charter, the inquiry assessed it only in terms of its feasibility and cost, rather than whether its legal powers were proportionate to the threats they were intended to address. That second assessment is being made by the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill which is likely to publish its report within the next fortnight.Nicola Blackwood MP, the committee's chair, stressed the bill's poor definitions of matters like decryption-on-demand (the removal of electronic protection) and the state's legalised hacking abilities (equipment interference). The committee's greatest worry, however, regarded "the feasibility of collecting and storing Internet Connection Records (ICRs), including concerns about ensuring security for the records from hackers."
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"The Bill was intended to provide clarity to the industry, but the current draft contains very broad and ambiguous definitions of ICRs," wrote Blackwood, echoing the sentiments of the submissions her committee had received from almost every party except from the Home Office itself.Does anyone here know what an 'Internet Connection Record' might be? A consensus among those providing witness statements to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry, as well as to the Joint Committee providing pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft legislation as a whole, criticised ICRs.Some ISPs simply confessed ignorance as to what the Home Office could possible mean by the term, while other witnesses gave more robust denials regarding whether ICRs even existed. No witnesses believed they current possessed the capacity to collect ICRs, and there was much echo of The Register's analysis that £2bn was a far closer assessment of its implementation costs than £250m.The report declared that “the Government must work with industry to improve estimates of all of the compliance costs associated with the measures in the draft Bill.”Blackwood noted that there are "widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft Bill”, and the report specifically highlighted that there are "questions as to how collecting and storing ICRs is technically possible, and whether Data Retention Notices to retain all user ICRs are 'necessary and proportionate'."
When such concerns were first raised, UK home secretary Theresa May dismissed them before Parliament by claiming that: “If someone has visited a social media website, an internet connection record will only show that they accessed that site, not the particular pages they looked at, who they communicated with, or what they said. It is simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill.”Government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate. This has been disputed, however. As legal expert Graham Smith told The Register: “We didn't read books over the telephone, but as an entirely accidental by-product of communications technology, our reading habits are now trackable.”Smith was further cited by the report as “pointing out that the draft Bill itself uses the term 'internet connection record' only in clause 47 and that this differs from the way in which 'relevant communications data' are defined in clause 71 (which details the powers to require retention of certain data).”
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The report stated that Smith “described how the scope of 'relevant communications data' depended on thirteen interlinked definitions, and concluded that 'the clause 71 power looks as if it may cover a wider range of communications data than is achieved by adding 'Internet Connection Records' to the current list of retainable communications data.'”All of which the committee found important, as any assessment of the feasibility of collecting and storing ICRs “depends on what they actually are.” The committee chair advocated that Government "urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate."For many onlookers one of the most concerning clauses of the bill is 189(4)(c), as it provides the government with the ability to impose “obligations relating to the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communications or data.”The Government's line on the matter is that it has no desire to “ban or limit cryptography”, and indeed this was trotted out recently in its response to a January petition on cryptography. How service providers were expected the fulfil their obligation under 189(4)(c) while transmitting end-to-end encrypted communications was unexplained.