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Microsoft Offers to Reduce Search Data in Europe

Microsoft offered Monday to abide by a European privacy panel’s request that it reduce the length of time it kept records of Web searches if its rivals, Yahoo and Google, did the same.

Google and Yahoo, in separate statements, said that for now they were unwilling to change their policies.

Microsoft said it made the offer in a letter to the Article 29 Working Party, a European Commission advisory panel made up of data protection commissioners from each of its 27 member countries. In April, the panel recommended that search engines keep search records no longer than six months before making the data untraceable.

Microsoft’s MSN Live Search currently retains search data for 18 months. Yahoo keeps data for 13 months and Google for 9 months.

The advisory panel was to meet Tuesday and Wednesday, but its members are postponing a decision on whether to take any action against the companies until at least February, when the companies are to make presentations before the panel.

John Vassallo, a lawyer for Microsoft, said Microsoft was not willing to act alone because doing so would create a commercial disadvantage.

“We support the commissioners’ recommendations but are asking them to ensure these are uniformly observed,” said Vassallo, who is based in Brussels. “Otherwise, to do so unilaterally would put us at a disadvantage.”

Budget Woes Force New Hampshire To Defer Jury Trials

The Superior Court system in New Hampshire will take the unusual step of halting jury trials for a month early next year because of a widening state budget crisis.

John Broderick, the state’s chief justice, said suspending trials was essential to avoid layoffs in the judicial system, which has already cut $2.7 million from its budget.

The measure will save about $73,000, the monthly amount spent on stipends for jurors. But the head of an association representing civil trial lawyers said it could have a harsh impact on plaintiffs, many of whom have already waited years for a judgment in their case.

“What are they going to rely on in the interim?” said Ellen Shemitz, executive director of the New Hampshire Association for Justice. “Some of these people have been harmed by the wrongdoing of others, are out of work as a result and are looking to the courts to protect their rights and provide some kind of financial remuneration.”

Officials at the National Center for State Courts said that while court systems across the country had made cuts they were not aware of any others suspending trials. In perhaps the closest parallel, Vermont is closing its district and family courthouses a half day per week for the rest of the fiscal year to save $300,000.

Suspending jury trials to save money is not unheard-of. Vermont stopped holding civil trials for five months in 1990, and New Hampshire effected a one-month suspension in 2001. Other state courts have tried to do it but have been overturned.

Fewer Students Seen Taking Graduate School Admission Tests

In bad times, the conventional wisdom has it, people flock to graduate school. But there is at least one sign that in this recession, that may not happen.

After years of steady growth, the number of students taking the Graduate Record Examination, which is required for most graduate programs, is on course to decline this year.

At the start of the year, the Educational Testing Service, which administers the $140 exam, projected that 675,000 students would take it by year’s end. Now the service estimates that the total will be only about 621,000.

A record 633,000 students took the GRE last year, up from 577,000 in 2006 and 539,000 in 2005.

David G. Payne, the service’s associate vice president for college and graduate programs, said it was too soon to predict what the decline would mean for next fall’s enrollment.

“On a percentage basis, it’s a very small decrease,” Payne said. “I think there are several things going on. The perception that there’s a lack of available credit may be contributing. It may be a question of timing, with people delaying their tests. There’s been such financial disruption that there’s a kind of freezing effect.”

Justices Turn Back a Challenge on Obama’s Citizenship

Without comment, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal by a New Jersey man who questioned President-elect Barack Obama’s eligibility for the presidency, based on his birth to a father from Kenya and a mother who was a U.S. citizen.

The case, originally brought in New Jersey courts by Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, contended that Obama could not be considered a “natural-born citizen” — a constitutional ground for becoming president of the United States — contending that he had dual nationality at birth.

State officials in Hawaii have declared that Obama was born there in August 1961, and is a U.S. citizen, but that has not stopped a small squall of Internet-fueled rumors trying to debunk his citizenship.

The issue of his birth certificate has long been the subject of rumors, to the point that Obama’s Web site posted a copy of it on its “fightthesmears” minisite to try to stanch the innuendo during the campaign.

Last week, Top of the Ticket, the politics blog of The Los Angeles Times, noted that Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court was circulating Donofrio’s appeal for emergency consideration among the members of the court.