Internet security and private browsing have been burning issues ever since the Internet became a predominant media channel worldwide. With the emergence of cloud computing as the “third-platform” the paranoia about data security became even more dominant.
Cloud computing refers to storing data on centralized servers that are scattered across the whole world. Once uploaded to a cloud storage service, a file physically moves to a location that may eternally remain unfamiliar to the file’s owner. To most of the owners this is not particularly important unless the file in question is absolutely private. Sensitive information, especially corporate data, is rarely sent to the cloud without a solid protection.
State of the Cloud in Europe
European Union has recently brought an official cloud computing strategy for the EU member states. The expansion of cloud computing in Europe significantly lagged behind the US because of the difficulties regarding implementation of a unified data protection strategy across all the EU countries. Not only that the countries each have different rules and policies regarding the Internet security and data protection but they also fear having data stored on cloud servers.
Fear of the Cloud
The fear of the cloud stems from the fact that the cloud data are often seen as insecure. The users don’t know where the data is located and whether it is accessible to third parties. This is especially related to the US Patriot Act that practically allows US government to access any data stored on the US cloud servers. This is why many Wuala users expressed negative attitude towards a fact that Switzerland based Wuala was bought by American Seagate.
FISA Act and Data Protection Laws
A set of revisions of Patriot Act shaped as FISAA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendment Act) that enables the US law enforcement to eavesdrop American phones was last year extended for another five years. Though essentially the government’s tool for fighting terrorism, this Act was often seen as an attack on American privacy. However, US citizens are not the only ones affected by it. As Microsoft U.K.’s managing director Gordon Frazer said for ZDnet, no US-based company can guarantee that EU-stored data will remain within European economic area.
Last year’s study conducted by the researches from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, investigates the possibilities the FISA Act creates for the US government. “In particular, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FAA) makes it easy for US authorities to circumvent local government institutions and mandate direct and easy access to cloud data belonging to non-Americans living outside the US, with little or no transparency obligations for such practices – not even the number of actual requests.” said one of the researchersAxel Arnbak.
In his study Cloud Computing and Data Protection German data protection expert Thilo Weichert claims that the Act enables American intelligence to potentially “blackmail” giant companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon to hand them whichever data they need. In this respect, cloud data may play a significant role in the economic espionage and this is why Weicher’s claims are taken seriously by the European parliament.
Member of European Parliament working on EU data protection regulations, Jan Phillip Albrecht points out that European intelligence services may as well benefit from the US surveillance activities. “European intelligence services and the police are of course happy to be provided data on European citizens by the US. They could not obtain this data under European law,” he explains.
Until the European data protection plan is adopted in 2014, users are advised to store their data on European-based cloud computing services. The actual future of cloud computing in Europe is still uncertain and it will probably take years until Europeans, too, start using the cloud extensively.