CookieLaw Blog June 13, 2013

Will Prism Break US Tech Dominance?

The story of the US National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance programme has really highlighted how much the world relies on US technology companies to power its most loved/used web services.

It has also exposed very clearly how all the users of those services could have their data handed over to the US government.  You might never have been to the US, but if you make extensive use of Google, Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Microsoft online services, it appears to be quite possible that their government has more data on you than your own.

Following the revelations of Edward Snowden, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding has demanded answers  to questions concerning what data the US government possesses on EU citizens, and what rights and protections are afforded to them compared to US citizens.

However, US President Obama has given his full support to PRISM, which doesn’t appear to be bound by any laws for the protection of the privacy of non-US nationals.

What this effectively could mean for non-US businesses and individuals is that if they use such services, their data being stored by US companies has fewer protections, at least from the US government, than many will find acceptable.

Use of US based cloud services is already under fire in the EU. The Swedish data protection regulator has recently told a local government body that its use of Google Apps for business (including Gmail, calendar and document management functionality) is in breach of Swedish data protection law because there are insufficient safeguards on how the data will be stored and controlled.

The PRISM revelations will almost certainly reinforce and spread these views.  We probably would already be starting to see large scale abandonment of these kinds of services outside the US, if there were credible alternatives.  Right now there aren’t many of those – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that situation change rather rapidly. 

This of course would be a boon to the efforts to push through a robust version of the new EU Data Protection Regulation, which then might actually fulfil its promise of creating a big new market in secure, EU-centred cloud services.

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