After PRISM reports, Swiss data bank sees boost


Concerns about U.S. government surveillance is stirring up concerns about American cloud providers. Some are heading to companies based elsewhere, such as Switzerland. Above, Swiss Jean-Louis Margelisch rides on June 12, 2013 on the closed road of the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass connecting Switzerland and Italy. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

You’ve probably heard of the unique benefits of Swiss banks. But what about Swiss data banks?

As details about the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs are still unfolding, some businesses are taking steps to take their company data to places where they think it will be safe from prying eyes.

Mateo Meier, chief executive of a Swiss hosting firm called Artmotion, said that his company has seen a spike of new customers since the news about PRISM broke, and that many of the new customers say they’re growing wary of cloud providers based in the U.S. specifically because of surveillance programs.

“The last couple of weeks have been quite stunning to us,” said Meier in an interview with The Washington Post.

Switzerland is a popular location for data centers, in part because the cold climate in parts of the country means that the server farms take less energy to cool. But Meier said his firm has been growing in the past year for another reason: The company’s location also means that data stored there are not subject to regulation from the European Union. Due to Switzerland’s neutrality, information there is only subject to the country’s own laws on privacy and data protection which, as the Financial Times reported in March, have a reputation for being fairly restrictive. For example, the Swiss data protection agency reserves the right to stop cross-border data transfers if it thinks the recipient country “cannot provide an adequate level of data protection.”

That’s been a selling point for Artmotion, Meier said, even before PRISM. Many of the firm’s customers — who are often looking to protect company secrets — come to the firm with specific concerns about data privacy, often because their previous data servers had some sort of security issue.

But the “rapid increase” Meier said the firm has seen in the past three weeks has been unlike anything he’s seen before.

“We see clients are concerned at the moment,” Meier said. “At this point, we don’t know if there was misuse on the part of the companies [who participated in the program], but all those concerns are ringing with the clients.”

The story of one firm is hardly indicative of a trend, but Meier’s newest customers aren’t the only ones to raise concerns about having their data stored on the servers of American companies.

European Union Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement last week that spying violates trust, and if “European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government or their assurances, then maybe they won’t trust U.S. cloud providers either. That is my guess. And if I am right, then there are multibillion-euro consequences for American companies.”

Related stories:

European regulators step up pressure on Google over privacy policies

Editorial Board: U.S. needs to deal with E.U. concerns about NSA spying

Agreements with private companies protect U.S. access to cables’ data for surveillance

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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