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The European Cloud Initiative: A silver lining for data sharing?

The European Commission has published proposals for a new cloud initiative – part of a package of measures designed to enhance the EU’s position in the global, data-driven economy

The European Commission (EC) launched the digital single market strategy (DSMS) in 2015, with the aim of opening up digital opportunities for businesses across the European Union (EU).

The DSMS is a response to the significant increase in the amount and variety of data being produced, and seeks to maximise the growth potential of the digital economy in the EU and encourage innovation in digital goods and services.

The European Cloud Initiative forms part of the DSMS and focuses on developing a European cloud service (essentially providing the delivery of hosted services over the internet) to share research results and knowledge within the scientific community (the European Open Science Cloud).

Issues with the use of data

The commission has identified five issues stopping the European research community from tapping into the full potential of data usage. They are:

  • Lack of awareness of the benefits of data sharing;
  • Inadequate interoperability of computer systems within the scientific community;
  • The inefficient use of computer storage space;
  • The absence of a fit-for-purpose computing infrastructure to process data;
  • The requirement that the use and re-use of personal data is adequately protected.

The initiative has proposed the following measures to deal with the issues identified.

Establishing the European Open Science Cloud

The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) would offer 1.7 million researchers and 70 million professionals in science and technology cloud-based services, for the storage, analysis and re-use of research data within the EU.

It would also be available for education and training purposes, primarily for higher education institutions.

In particular, the EOSC would make all data produced by the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, the Horizon 2020 Programme, open by default.

To improve the interoperability of systems, it would also create a fit-for-purpose governance structure across the EU and provide specifications for data sharing across disciplines and infrastructures.

The initiative states that privacy and data protection would be based on recognised standards and guaranteed by design of the EOSC.

Suggested methods to ensure compliance of the proposal with data protection law include irreversible anonymisation of sensitive data before integration with other sources and establishing “personal data” spaces within the cloud.

The EC aims to connect priority European research infrastructures to the EOSC by 2017.

Implementing a European Data Infrastructure

The European Data Infrastructure (EDI) will provide a high-performance computing (HPC) framework with the capability to support the EOSC.

These supercomputers will connect to mid-range EU national computing centres and to software infrastructure to offer what is basically supercomputing-as-a-service across the EU. The framework will be developed from 2016 to 2020.

The EDI would also be accompanied by a large-scale initiative to develop supercomputing through quantum technology, to begin by the end of 2017.

Extending measures to the public

Over time, the EOSC and the EDI will be extended to the public sector and industry. Suggested uses of the proposals include piloting so-called e-government schemes.

The EC acknowledges the production of more data will present challenges in terms of compliance with data protection law.

It suggests that data transfers will be dealt with through a certification scheme, whereby binding and enforceable commitments must be made by the transferor to apply the appropriate safeguards to the transferred data, in line with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The aim is to widen access to the EOSC and EDI to the public sector by 2020.

The initiative is likely to be welcomed by the scientific community and the wider technology industry. It acknowledges and supports the significant role of cloud computing in the next chapter of the EU’s digital revolution.

The EC acknowledges, however, that the generation of more data will present challenges in terms of compliance with data protection law.

Given the nature of cloud computing and the ease with which data can be transferred from one party to another, it is clear that the issues of privacy and data protection will be of paramount importance, particularly against the background of a moving regulatory landscape with the forthcoming GDPR.

Ian Stevens and Alan Nelson are partners at CMS Cameron McKenna.


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