Cloud industry watchers call for clarity on international privacy laws

Criticism under magnifying glass

End users need much clearer guidance about the laws governing where they can store their data to help inform their choice of cloud providers.

This is the view put forward by the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) in response to claims made in the US House of Representatives that overseas cloud providers are preying on people's privacy concerns to lure business away from US firms.

In a court hearing last week, Justin Freeman, corporate counsel for Rackspace, reportedly hit out at overseas providers for spreading "fear, uncertainty and doubt" about America's stance on privacy.

"We commonly see almost absurd positioning of what the Patriot Act permits, to the extent that it allows almost any US government agency to, without notice or warrant, access any private data that's on a server contained within the United States," Freeman said.

Andy Burton, chairman of the Cloud Industry Forum, said it is not unusual for companies "in any market" to "deliberately stifle people's understanding of complex issues" to strengthen their own position.

However, without intervention, this could hamper the worldwide adoption of cloud, he warned. "The natural tendency is to stick with what they know...and store data [on] their sovereign soil.

"What will help people expand that is a clearer, plain English explanation of data protection, data security and data sovereignty as it relates internationally between countries," Burton told Cloud Pro.

European and US governments can lead the way on this by "clearly demonstrating" what is legitimate practice in the cloud and what isn't, he added.

"For consumers and SMBs, I do not think these issues will hamper cloud adoption as much, because they want to use the cloud for convenience," said Burton.

"In the enterprise, government and public sector, I think it could have more of an effect."

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said overseas cloud providers are right to use privacy concerns as a competitive weapon.

"To suggest otherwise shows an alarming lack of respect for consumers. We've had a period of near free-for-all online with some companies operating with no regard for our privacy," Pickles told Cloud Pro.

"As people begin to realise the commercial value of their data and the risks of poor privacy protection, it's to be expected that the market will respond to cater for demand for privacy-enhancing products. "

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.