The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled the Safe Harbour agreement between Europe and the US, which provides blanket permission for data transfer between the two, is invalid.
Companies looking to move data from Europe to the US will now need to negotiate specific rules of engagement with each country, which is likely to have a significant impact on all businesses, but especially those heavily reliant on the cloud.
The ruling came about after Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems asked to find out what data Facebook was passing on to US intelligence agencies in the wake of the Snowden revelations. When his request was declined on the grounds that the safe harbour agreement guaranteed his protection he contested the decision and it was referred to the Court of Justice.
This decision had been anticipated, and on top of any legal contingencies already made large players such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are offered some protection by the fact that they have datacentres within Europe. However the legal and logistical strain will be felt by all, especially smaller companies that rely on US-based cloud players.
“The ability to transfer data easily and securely between Europe and the US is critical for businesses in our modern data-driven digital economy,” said Matthew Fell, CBI Director for Competitive Markets. “Businesses will want to see clarity on the immediate implications of the ECJ’s decision, together with fast action from the Commission to agree a new framework. Getting this right will be important to the future of Europe’s digital agenda, as well as doing business with our largest trading partner.”
“The ruling invalidating Safe Harbour is seismic,” said Andy Hardy, EMEA MD at Code42, which recently secured $85 million in Series B funding. “This decision will affect big businesses as well as small ones. But it need not be the end of business as we know it, in terms of data handling. What businesses need to do now is safeguard data. They need to find solutions that keep their, and their customer’s, data private – even when backed up into public cloud.”
“Symantec respects the decision of the EU Court of Justice,” said Ilias Chantzos, Senior Director of Government Affairs EMEA at Symantec. “However, we encourage further discussion in order to create a strengthened agreement with the safeguards expected by the EU Court of Justice. We believe that the recent ruling will create considerable disruption and uncertainty for those companies that have relied solely on Safe Harbour as a means of transferring data to the United States.”
“The issues are highly complex, and there are real tensions between the need for international trade, and ensuring European citizen data is treated safely and in accordance with data protection law,” said Nicky Stewart, commercial director of Skyscape Cloud Services. “We would urge potential cloud consumers not to use this ruling as a reason not to adopt cloud. There are very many European cloud providers which operate solely within the bounds of the European Union, or even within a single jurisdiction within Europe, therefore the complex challenges of the Safe Harbor agreement simply don’t apply.”
These were just some of the views offered to BCN as soon as the ruling was announced and the public hand-wringing is likely to continue for some time. From a business cloud perspective one man’s problem is another’s opportunity and companies will be queuing up to offer localised cloud services, encryption solutions, etc. In announcing a couple of new European datacentres today Netsuite was already making reference to the ruling. This seems like a positive step for privacy but only time will tell what it means for the cloud industry.