France hopes to turn PRISM worries into cloud opportunities

When the NSA's PRISM program was first revealed, reactions were cautious. But now, some believe it could be an opportunity for France's cloud industry.

When first asked about the PRISM program last week, Fleur Pellerin, France's digital economy, began her answer very cautiously: "For sure, it's worrying — the information that we have so far is worrying. But it needs to be confirmed."

Pellerin had just returned from a week spent in Silicon Valley trying to convince US entrepreneurs and investors that France "is not a closed economy", after the government prevented Yahoo from buying a stake Dailymotion, a video sharing site owned by French telco Orange, earlier this year.

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However, during a public hearing on online privacy issues at the French parliament the next day, Pellerin appeared to treat PRISM more like an opportunity for the country.

According to the minister, the program raises questions around the transfer of personal data outside Europe. But, for Pellerin, if the Prism scandal "turns out to be true, it makes relatively relevant to locate datacentres and servers in [French] national territory in order to better ensure data security".

The minister pointed to the two ongoing initiatives meant to let the public sector store data in a French 'sovereign cloud', without the fear of it being accessed by foreign governments.

The idea of creating a French sovereign cloud infrastructure emerged during summer 2011. Launched under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the initiative was primarily meant to offer cloud services to the public sector, as well as SMEs and consumers, that would ensure that French data was kept on French soil. The idea appears to appeal to Pellerin, who backed the idea of French data being hosted by "companies located in France and governed in accordance with French laws, especially for critical or sensitive data".

And Pellerin is not the only one who supports the idea. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, telco SFR (which, along with French IT company Bull, is part of the Numergy French sovereign cloud project ) is backing it. "Prism highlights the need to locate data in France. But enterprises don't always have the internal skills to really understand that. In particular, it's the smallest businesses that are the weakest ones," Arnaud Bertrand, director of cloud and security at SFR, told French newspaper Le Monde.

Octave Klaba, director of the French hosting company OVH which launched its own public cloud storage offering earlier this year, told the paper: "We are prisoners [of US web companies]. It needs this kind of scandal to drive awareness."