The Liberal Democrats will urge the government to consider the security of cloud computing with an aim to developing an open industry body that would report to Ofcom.
At the party's autumn conference on Monday delegates adopted the Preparing the Ground: Stimulating Growth in the Digital Economy technology policy paper. The document cautioned against the rise of a cloud-computing economy without sufficient regulation. It also argued for greater small-business involvement in government IT procurement contracts beyond the 25 percent targeted by the coalition government.
"Cloud computing is an area where, if left unchecked, there is serious potential for abuse — for example, large corporations taking control of enormous quantities of public or private data outside the reach of national law," the policy paper read (PDF). "Cloud is only attractive if it embodies the principles on privacy and data ownership, access, project management and procurement that we have set out elsewhere in this paper."
The Lib Dems said that encouraging the development of open industry bodies for the cloud with elected representatives and reporting to Ofcom would be the "most effective" way of achieving this rise in security.
They picked out security issues implicit to cloud computing, specifically where data is kept and how it is secured, as areas the government should consider "as a matter of urgency."
Data location has elicited concerns before: in January the EU's information security advisory agency, Enisa, said private clouds — layers of internet-connected IT infrastructure walled off from the public internet and controlled by government agencies — would be best for the public sector as these could assuage data governance and location concerns.
Laws are evolving to take account of data and where it is located. The High Court ruled in November that companies can only be held legally responsible for 'making available' internet-hosted material in the country where their host servers are based.
Although the government revamped its procurement measures in June to target 25 percent of its procurement business toward small and medium-sized companies, the Liberal Democrats want to go further.
We recommend that the government continue to prioritise the growth of small and medium-sized businesses . – Liberal Democrat policy paper
"We recommend that the government continue to prioritise the growth of small and medium-sized businesses," they said. "The coalition government has introduced an aspiration that 25 percent of all government contracts should be awarded to SMEs, but we believe that in IT procurement this could be increased yet further."
Echoing a report from the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (Pasc) in July, which described government IT procurement strategy as a "recipe for rip-offs", the Liberal Democrats said, "We must change the culture that has allowed a few large IT providers to become the 'safe choice' for public procurement by introducing a presumption in favour of [small-and-medium-sized businesses]."