The Snowden Effect: Why International Companies Are Wary of U.S. Public Clouds

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Following a steady drumbeat of news stories about the NSA’s widespread surveillance of consumers, companies, and even foreign heads of state, companies based outside the U.S. are increasingly wary of trusting their data to cloud services managed by U.S. firms.

A story in IT World reports that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the agency’s data collection activities has “prompted a slew of requests from European customers to have data cordoned off from U.S. infrastructure.” German companies are leading the movement, with Swiss companies close behind.

Germany has a strong tradition of protecting the privacy of its citizens: the German federal state of Hesse passed the first data privacy law of the computer age back in 1971. Not surprisingly, then, Germans have been rattled by disclosures that the NSA routinely sweeps up email data from U.S. public-cloud vendors and has tapped the cell phone of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.

To preserve the privacy of their data, German, Swiss, and other European companies are now asking that their service providers “cordon off” their data from US infrastructure. Some companies are trying to avoid infrastructure based in Canada, the U.K., and other nations known to have cooperated closely with the U.S. on its intelligence-gathering.

It’s difficult, however, for public-cloud service providers, especially those based in the U.S., to avoid infrastructure in U.S. territories. John Dickson, a principal with The Denim Group, told IT World: “That kind of thing is an anathema to the cloud.” He points out that hosting firms need to maintain centralized control of their assets and customers’ data. For U.S. firms, that centralized control will almost certainly involve U.S. infrastructure.

To provide E.U.-based alternatives to U.S. public-cloud vendors, companies based in the E.U. are launching new cloud services. New start-ups specializing in local cloud services may appear as well.

Of course, international companies have another option for protecting the privacy of their data: avoid public clouds altogether. By running services on their own private clouds, they can minimize the risk of intelligence agencies sweeping up data in violation of local privacy laws, and they can know for certain exactly where their data is residing, and how has control over it.

Learn more about Accellion’s private cloud file sharing solutions here.

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