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‘Cloud’ privacy on EU’s agenda

LONDON — The words “cloud computing” never appeared in a 119-page digital privacy regulation introduced in Europe last year.

They do now.

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Even before revelations this summer by Edward Snowden on the extent of spying by the National Security Agency on electronic communications, the European Parliament busied itself attaching amendments to its data privacy regulation.

Several would change the rules of cloud computing, the technology that enables the sharing of software, documents, and other files between computers connected to the Internet.

And since the news broke of widespread monitoring by the US spy agency, cloud computing has become one of the regulatory flash points in Brussels as a debate ensued over how to protect data from snooping American eyes.

Cloud technology has become a routine part of everyday digital life, whether it’s used for Web-based services to send e-mail or store photographs or to warehouse troves of business or government records.

But transmitting data between mobile phones, tablet computers, and clouds — even while encrypted — makes it more accessible to snooping.

The European Union wants to regulate the cloud even if that makes its use more complicated.

One proposed amendment would require “all transfers of data” from a cloud in the EU to a cloud maintained in the United States or elsewhere to “be accompanied with a notification to the data subject of such transfer and its legal effects.”

Lawmakers are also proposing to revive an amendment that US diplomats largely succeeded in getting dropped from the original data privacy regulation that would impose guidelines for handling court orders from countries outside the EU.

The amendment would require the operator of data servers to inform a local “supervisory authority” as well as the subject of the request, which could conflict with US law.

The rhetoric from politicians across the European Union is similar.

“We need to realize that European citizens will not embrace the cloud if they are worried for their privacy or for the security of their data,” said Neelie Kroes, the European Commission vice president in charge of telecommunications and information policy.

Sophia in ‘t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who sponsored one of the cloud computing amendments, said:

“This extreme market dominance of a few American players is very unhealthy, but I am against putting a fence around Europe and excluding anybody. But it has to be very clear what the rules are that we play by, and there has to be more competition from Europe.”

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