The European Commission (EC) recently proposed the European Cloud Initiative (ECI): a plan to create a world-class data infrastructure to store, manage, transport and process data at high speeds. The primary aims are to support establishment of the ‘Digital Single Market’ in Europe, improve Europe’s position in data-driven innovation, and improve competitiveness and inspire cohesion and collaboration on projects across Europe. By establishing the European Data Infrastructure (EDI – a high-performance computing framework), the ECI will create the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). The EOSC will provide European researchers and professionals in science and technology an environment in which to store, manage, analyse and share data linked to their research, seamlessly and efficiently across the EU. The aim is to extend the EDI and the EOSC to the public sector and industry by 2020.
The ECI is expected to require investment of €6.7bn; €3.5bn is required for the data infrastructure alone. This vast investment indicates the EC’s expectation that large amounts of data are to be hosted, processed and transferred in and out of the EOSC. The potential for the transfer of vast amounts of personal data is significant, and compliance with EU data protection legislation will be an important consideration for all users. To address this concern, the ECI proposes safeguards such as the irreversible anonymisation of sensitive data, and the creation of ‘personal data spaces’ within the cloud itself. The EC suggests that data transfers shall be preceded by the creation of binding and enforceable commitments to implement appropriate safeguards to protect any personal data in-line with the General Data Protection Regulation.
Overall, the potential positive impacts of the ECI on researchers, professionals and, later, small businesses, could be marred by stringent, but arguably necessary, data protection law. Stakeholders will have to wait until the implementation of the ECI to discover how privacy and data protection legislation will affect, if at all, the benefits introduced by the scheme.