Data Has No Nationality

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Governments and individuals may want it otherwise, but Peter Judge thinks data will always find its way across borders

It’s generally reckoned that as politics becomes more insular, data centres will get more local. But is it that simple?

European data center operators are predicting (and possibly experiencing) a boom in local storage, since Edward Snowden revealed that US agencies are spying on user data. But is data stored in Europe really safer from prying eyes abroad?

National border security fence firewall guard boundary data © Bertold Werkmann ShutterstockLock up your data?

Leaving aside covert access for now, this past week saw a setback for the idea that data in one country is legally safe from agencies elsewhere. Microsoft has been ordered by the US government  to hand over a customer’s emails that were handled in Dublin.

The case has already gone through one appeal, and Microsoft is going to appeal again, arguing that US search warrants have never reached beyond the country’s shores.

That case has nothing to do with the NSA or with espionage – the US justice agencies want the emails to help prosecute a drugs crime.

Elsewhere, politics and business are hopelessly tangled in Russia’s new ruling that all data relating to Russian citizens must be kept in Russia.

It seems clear that this is an opportunistic response to the Snowden revelations. The Russian regulators want to boost Russian business while claiming they are improving Russians’ privacy.

So, is this a boost to data centres within Russia? Only if the idea can actually be enforced. It’s not at all clear how Russians can use flight and hotel booking services based outside Russia, without sending their personal details abroad.

Another data centre I discussed recently could move to a new country ovbernight, taking all its data with it. I’m thinking of a plant at Glenrothes. If Sepember’s referendum votes for Scottish independence, it will wake up one morning in a different country.

Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of a war of words about espionage between the US and China, a Chinese service provider has booked space for its customers, in a US data centre.

America won’t buy network equipment from Huawei or other Chinese suppliers, and has accused China of running espionage and malware attacks on US government and business. In May, the US actually filed charges against five individuals who are members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

China has responded angrily, and its advice that banks there replace IBM kit, as well as its antitrust accusations against Microsoft are both seen as a way of striking back.

But against this backdrop, China Telecom has booked space in a California data centre run by CoreSite. It’s not clear what data will be held there, for what customers. The deal is apparently for an un-named client of the Chinese telco.

The only thing that is clear from all of this is that data takes no notice of borders. It wants to move across them. ‘Information wants to be free,’ goes the saying. When governments attempt to move the data covertly or by force, it may set up a backlash, but the inevitable direction is for data, like people, to become more international.

A version of this article has appeared on Green Data Center News.

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