Away from NSA? Microsoft to open data centers in Germany

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella presents the company's new cloud strategy in Berlin, Germany, November 11, 2015 © Hannibal Hanschke
Microsoft is building two new data centers to hold the data of its German and EU customers, the company has announced. EU courts recently ruled a previous data-transfer treaty with the US invalid, following the Snowden revelations of NSA data collection.

Starting in late 2016, Microsoft’s cloud offerings will be hosted from the new data centers in Magdeburg and Frankfurt, CEO Satya Nadella announced Wednesday.  The Redmond-based corporation is partnering with Deutsche Telekom AG, whose sister company T-Systems will act as a trustee over the data, according to Reuters.

Microsoft’s cloud offerings include the infrastructure service Azure, the customer-management platform Dynamics CRM Online and the widely popular Office 365. The German data centers will serve customers in the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.

“With this partnership with T-Systems, Microsoft customers can choose a data protection level that complies with the requirements of German customers and many clients of the public sector,” the director of the new Digital Division of the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems, Anette Bronder said, as cited by AFP.

Deutsche Telekom pledges all customer data will remain exclusively in Germany. With the data centers under the control of a German company, any requests for access to the data by the US spy agencies will have to go through the German government.

Last month, a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) practically scrapped a 15-year old ‘Safe Harbor’ agreement that enabled internet businesses to move and store Europeans’ data on servers located in the US.

The decision came as a result of a 2013 complaint by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, who argued that the US law did not offer sufficient protection against surveillance of data sent to the United States via Facebook. Schrems filed the complaint after the revelations of mass surveillance made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In late October, German authorities announced they would investigate subsidiaries of US tech companies for violations of EU privacy laws.

“Anyone who wants to remain untouched by the legal and political implications of the judgment, should in the future consider storing personal data only on servers within the European Union,” Johannes Casper, the Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Hamburg, told Der Spiegel.

On Monday, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook violated EU privacy laws by tracking people without their consent using the so-called ‘datr’ cookie. The tracking cookie was placed on an internet user’s system when they visited a site or ‘Liked’ a page on other websites. This has allowed Facebook to monitor the user’s browsing habits in order to target them with advertising offerings.

The ‘Safe Harbor’ treaty is currently being renegotiated, with an eye on keeping the Europeans’ data safe – or at least safer – from the NSA’s prying eyes.