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Cloud computing needs tighter regulation, says EU

Europe could be on the brink of a multi-billion euro investment in cloud computing - but a senior figures has warned that it could come hand in hand with a massive increase in market regulation.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president for the digital agenda, laid out the EU's proposals for cloud computing in a blog post on Friday, declaring that Europe needed to become not just "cloud-friendly" but "cloud-active".

"I think the Cloud is critical to Europe's growth, and essential for making the best internet available to all," Kroes explained.

The commissioner set out the three key principles she says will guide Europe's thinking on cloud computing: establishing a clear legal framework, standardising data formats and the APIs used to tap into cloud-based services, and driving the use of the cloud by the public and private sector.

And she issued a stark warning about what could happen if Europe gets its cloud strategy wrong.

"Getting the cloud right will mean the Internet can continue to be a generator of innovation, growth and freedom," said Kroes. "If we get it wrong our infrastructure will fail to meet our appetite for access to data and our fragile digital economy could be knocked about badly."

Kroes pointed to work already being done by the EU's SIENA initiative to standardise APIs and data formats, enabling cloud services to be interoperable.

The commissioner hinted at the kind of resources Europe might be keen to throw at cloud computing. Explaining the need for "scaling up pilot projects and pushing the public sector to really make use of cloud computing," Kroes revealed she was in close contact with the US government's Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra.

Kundra has spearheaded the use of cloud computing in America's public service infrastructure, recently announcing that a massive 25 per cent of the total US spend on IT - $20 billion of its $80 billion budget - would be devoted to cloud services.

But turning to the issue of regulation on issues such as data protection, which has kept many companies out of the cloud, Kroes was emphatic: "We can't simply assume that voluntary approaches like codes of conduct will do the job. Sometimes you need the sort of real teeth only public authorities have.

"Freedom of expression; the protection of privacy and personal data; net neutrality and the preservation of an open Internet; these and other issues are fundamentally public policy issues. Who will be liable if something goes wrong in the cloud and data is lost or compromised? Which rules and which jurisdiction will apply? These are not questions that 'codes of conduct' on their own can answer in a satisfactory way."

Consultation on the EU's cloud policy begins in late April, with a "live consultative process" culminating on 23th May in Brussels.