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Microsoft pledges to offer overseas data storage, but is it really that simple?

Public SectorNews
by James Laird
, 23 Jan 2014News
Microsoft pledges to offer overseas data storage, but is it really that simple?

In the wake of the NSA spying scandal, Microsoft has broken rank with other major US technology companies by committing to offering international customers an overseas data storage option.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said that it was now necessary to allow foreign customers to choose where their personal data was stored - European users could opt to choose the firm's Irish data centre, for example.

Read more: Microsoft encrypts Internet traffic after NSA spying

"People should have the ability to know whether their data are being subjected to the laws and access of governments in some other country and should have the ability to make an informed choice of where their data resides," he said.

Though other large US tech firms are understood to be opposed to the idea, the move was welcome by some privacy advocates.

"It's incredibly positive. If they're really making a public commitment to store [data] locally then they will be breaking with the rest of the industry," commented Jeff Chester, a US privacy campaigner.

Related: Microsoft labels US government "persistent threat" amid anti-spying overhaul

However, others were less sure, with US lobby group the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noting that a company would still be obliged to turn over data if requested by a government agency, wherever it was stored.

"What matters more than where the data is, is where the system administrators are and who can order them to do things. As long as (a company) has a presence, the data is vulnerable," Chris Soghoian, a privacy researcher at the ACLU, told the Wall Street Journal.

Since the NSA scandal broke in mid-2013, many big tech organisations have sought to reassure users that they were not complicit in the controversial NSA surveillance programme which, among other things, saw some 200 million texts handed over to UK spooks every day.

Read more: Dropbox joins Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft in effort to publish NSA data requests

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