Europe’s chief data protection watchdog has raised concerns over contractual arrangements between Microsoft and the European Union institutions which are making use of its software products and services.
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) opened an enquiry into the contractual arrangements between EU institutions and the tech giant this April, following changes to rules governing EU outsourcing.
Today it writes [with emphasis]: “Though the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary results reveal serious concerns over the compliance of the relevant contractual terms with data protection rules and the role of Microsoft as a processor for EU institutions using its products and services.”
We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment.
A spokesperson for the company told Reuters: “We are committed to helping our customers comply with GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], Regulation 2018/1725 and other applicable laws. We are in discussions with our customers in the EU institutions and will soon announce contractual changes that will address concerns such as those raised by the EDPS.”
The preliminary finding follows risk assessments carried out by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, published this summer, which also found similar issues, per the EDPS.
At issue is whether contractual terms are compatible with EU data protection laws intended to protect individual rights across the region.
“Amended contractual terms, technical safeguards and settings agreed between the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and Microsoft to better protect the rights of individuals shows that there is significant scope for improvement in the development of contracts between public administration and the most powerful software developers and online service outsourcers,” the watchdog writes today.
“The EDPS is of the opinion that such solutions should be extended not only to all public and private bodies in the EU, which is our short-term expectation, but also to individuals.”
A conference, jointly organized by the EDPS and the Dutch Ministry, which was held in August, brought together EU customers of cloud giants to work on a joint response to tackle regulatory risks related to cloud software provision. The event agenda included a debate on what was billed as “Strategic Vendor Management with respect to hyperscalers such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google”.
The EDPS says the idea for The Hague Forum — as it’s been named — is to develop a common strategy to “take back control” over IT services and products sold to the public sector by cloud giants.
Such as by creating standard contracts with fair terms for public administration, instead of the EU’s various public bodies feeling forced into accepting T&Cs as written by the same few powerful providers.
Commenting in a statement today, assistant EDPS, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, said: “We expect that the creation of The Hague Forum and the results of our investigation will help improve the data protection compliance of all EU institutions, but we are also committed to driving positive change outside the EU institutions, in order to ensure maximum benefit for as many people as possible. The agreement reached between the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and Microsoft on appropriate contractual and technical safeguards and measures to mitigate risks to individuals is a positive step forward. Through The Hague Forum and by reinforcing regulatory cooperation, we aim to ensure that these safeguards and measures apply to all consumers and public authorities living and operating in the EEA.”
EU data protection law means data controllers who make use of third parties to process personal data on their behalf remain accountable for what’s done with the data — meaning EU public institutions have a responsibility to assess risks around cloud provision, and have appropriate contractual and technical safeguards in place to mitigate risks. So there’s a legal imperative to dial up scrutiny of cloud contracts.
In parallel, the EDPS has been pushing for greater transparency in consumer agreements too.
On the latter front Microsoft’s arrangements with consumers using its desktop OS remain under scrutiny in the EU. Earlier this year the Dutch data protection agency referred privacy concerns about how Windows 10 gathers user data to the company’s lead regulator in Europe.
The French government, meanwhile, has been loudly pursuing a strategy of digital sovereignty to reduce the state’s reliance on foreign tech providers. Though kicking the cloud giant habit may prove harder than ditching Google search.