Microsoft is claiming that its Office 365 cloud productivity tools now meet key privacy and security standards in Europe and the US, which will enable UK customers to ensure compliance with the European Commission's Data Protection Directive when using the service.
The company announced its intention to sign the EU's Model Clauses framework, which allows cloud service providers to ensure certain levels of security for data held on behalf of European customers, even if this is stored in datacentres outside Europe.
Previously, the organisation that owns the information was held responsible for any data loss, which was seen as a barrier to greater take-up of cloud services because customers do not have complete control over data uploaded to the cloud.
With the new Model Clauses customers can be assured that they have taken appropriate steps to safeguard any personal data they process in the cloud, according to Microsoft.
"Microsoft has a more complete approach to European data protection and security laws than any other company," said Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International.
"We're proud of the work we've done to ensure the widest range of organisations can move to the cloud with confidence."
In addition, Microsoft has developed a data processing agreement for customers in EU countries that already have more stringent privacy protection laws than those found in the EU-wide Data Protection Directive.
But there is still the issue of the Patriot Act, under which the US government is able to access data held by US-based companies, regardless of who owns it and where they are based around the world.
This has had a chilling effect on cloud services among European businesses.
Microsoft claimed that Office 365 is the first cloud-based productivity service to obtain the ISO/IEC 27001 standards certification, as well as meeting compliance with the US HIPAA act to safeguard healthcare information.
Microsoft also said it has rigorous processes in place so that if a privacy incident occurs it is able to diagnose the cause and update customers in a timely manner.
The company now has a dedicated site, the Office 365 Trust Center, providing further details on the security and privacy of Office 365.
"Microsoft is contractually committing to European standards like the EU Model Clauses and Data Processing Agreements which address the handling and transfer of data," the company said in a statement to V3.
"The Patriot Act mandates that any company with a presence in the US is legally required to respond to a valid demand from the US government for information if the company retains custody or control over the data.
"This is the case regardless of where the data is stored or the existence of any conflicting obligations under the laws where the data is located."
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