Cloud Computing: New Article 29 Working Party Opinion

July 2, 2012

The Article 29 Working Party, the working party made up of the various European data protection authorities which acts as independent European advisory body on data protection and privacy, adopted an Opinion on 1 July on cloud computing.

The Opinion may be read in full here

The Executive Summary is as follows:

In this Opinion the Article 29 Working Party analyses all relevant issues for cloud computing service providers operating in the European Economic Area (EEA) and their clients specifying all applicable principles from the EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) and the e-privacy Directive 2002/58/EC (as revised by 2009/136/EC) where relevant.

Despite the acknowledged benefits of cloud computing in both economic and societal terms, this Opinion outlines how the wide scale deployment of cloud computing services can trigger a number of data protection risks, mainly a lack of control over personal data as well as insufficient information with regard to how, where and by whom the data is being processed/sub-processed. These risks need to be carefully assessed by public bodies and private enterprises when they are considering engaging the services of a cloud provider. This Opinion examines issues associated with the sharing of resources with other parties, the lack of transparency of an outsourcing chain consisting of multiple processors and subcontractors, the unavailability of a common global data portability framework and uncertainty with regard to the admissibility of the transfer of personal data to cloud providers established outside of the EEA. Similarly, a lack of transparency in terms of the information a controller is able to provide to a data subject on how their personal data is processed is highlighted in the opinion as matter of serious concern. Data subjects must1 be informed who processes their data for what purposes and to be able to exercise the rights afforded to them in this respect.

A key conclusion of this Opinion is that businesses and administrations wishing to use cloud computing should conduct, as a first step, a comprehensive and thorough risk analysis. All cloud providers offering services in the EEA should provide the cloud client with all the information necessary to rightly assess the pros and cons of adopting such a service. Security, transparency and legal certainty for the clients should be key drivers behind the offer of cloud computing services.

In terms of the recommendations contained in this Opinion, a cloud client’s responsibilities as a controller is highlighted and it is thus recommended that the client should select a cloud provider that guarantees compliance with EU data protection legislation. Appropriate contractual safeguards are addressed in the opinion with the requirement that any contract between the cloud client and cloud provider should afford sufficient guarantees in terms of technical and organizational measures. Also of significance is the recommendation that the cloud client should verify whether the cloud provider can guarantee the lawfulness of any cross-border international data transfers.

Like any evolutionary process, the rise of cloud computing as a global technological paradigm represents a challenge. This Opinion, as it stands, can be deemed to be an important step in defining the tasks to be assumed in this regard by the data protection community in the upcoming years.