To Evade NSA, Microsoft Begins Building Data Centers in Germany

In an attempt to evade the long arm of U.S. intelligence that could mark a sea change in internet privacy, Microsoft has announced plans to build two new data centers in Germany that will store user information in a secure network and not allow access to anyone—including the U.S. government and Microsoft staff themselves—without explicit approval by the user or a “data trustee.”

If permission is granted by the user or the trustee, Microsoft would still be required to operate under their supervision.

In this case, the trustee is T-Systems, a subsidiary of German conglomerate Deutsche Telekom. By stationing its data servers in Frankfurt am Main and Magdeburg, Microsoft will be placing user data under German privacy protections, which are some of the strictest in Europe.

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The move comes amid growing public outcry over government eavesdropping in the wake of Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations that exposed National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance at home and abroad. And it may help address new privacy concerns arising just weeks after the U.S. Senate passed the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which supporters say would make it easier for tech companies to respond to security breaches—but which opponents say is nothing more than a government surveillance bill in disguise.

Microsoft, which publicly opposed CISA, has been in an ongoing legal battle with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the company in December 2013 refused to hand over emails from a drug trafficking suspect stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft told DOJ officials they would have to get a warrant from an Irish court.

With that case still underway, the company’s initiative signals that it may be looking for a whole new approach to privacy.

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The implications of the move are significant, even if they are not necessary fail-safe. As The Verge writes:

The data centers—which are connected to each other by a private network that will operate separately from the internet—are aimed at organizations working with sensitive information, such as health or finances.

“These locally deployed versions of Microsoft’s commercial cloud services adhere to German data handling regulations and customers will be able to view how and where data is processed,” the company stated on Wednesday.

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