A cloud safe from the NSA's prying eyes: Europe begins work on its EU-wide system

A new project seeks to lay down some ground rules for what could become a cloud for the continent.
Written by Michael Filtz, Contributor

At last week's Berlin launch of a new EU-funded research project which aims to lay the groundwork for a European-wide cloud, spying by foreign governments hung darkly over the proceedings.

"Recent spy allegations have shocked some of us," according to Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, but "they should not derail the cloud opportunity".

Estonia's president Toomas Ilves and Germany's commissioner for IT Cornelia Rogall-Grothe
Estonia's president Toomas Ilves and Germany's commissioner for IT Cornelia Rogall-Grothe. Image: Michael Filtz

According to Estonia's president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, these allegations have brought greater public awareness of cloud security. "Before 6 June, this was a process that was going on without much public opinion," he said, referring to the date when the Snowden NSA leaks first hit the press, "that it seemed to be kind of a thing for geeks.

"After 6 June, this has become a pan-European issue for good and bad."

'Cloud for Europe' seeks to establish a common regulatory framework for a continent-wide cloud, intended to be more secure from the eyes of foreign intelligence services than the currently available equivalents.

The main idea behind the project seems to be that if regulators could create a more secure space for data storage, European governments and consumers would be more likely to trust it. Plus, regulatory oversight could make data privacy rules more consistent across borders, and be more reflective of European legal values.

"95 percent of cloud services that are used in Europe come from a different legal space, without any European participation," Ilves said, "in which there is the kind of security that some other countries have demanded but not the kind of security that satisfies European need."

If you build it, they will come?

During last week's two-day conference that accompanied the launch of Cloud for Europe, most of the discussion revolved around either the practical aspects of creating a continent-wide cloud: harmonising policies, addressing specific cloud requirements for the public sector; or the economic benefits of cloud services: "Cloud computing services can help increase productivity and free small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups from having to make large investments in IT," Cornelia Rogall-Groth, Germany's federal government commissioner for information technology, said.

However, one critical element not yet resolved is how the project plans to get buy-in from the majority of the EU member states: only 11 of the 28 countries in the European Union have so far signed up to the Cloud for Europe plan. The EC's Neelie Kroes equated the creation of a European cloud with the introduction of the euro. "We started with a couple of member states," she said of the initial adopters of the currency, "and now still, under the circumstances of today, other member states are lining up and are knocking on the door."

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