Microsoft Office 365: Banned in German schools over privateness fears

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The nation’s records-safety commissioner has dominated that the use of the famous cloud platform’s fashionable configuration exposes private information approximately students and teachers “to viable get right of entry to by using US officials”.
That would possibly sound like just another instance of European issues about records privateness or concerns about the modern-day US management’s foreign policy.

But in fact, the ruling by way of the Hesse Office for Data Protection and Information Freedom is the end result of several years of domestic debate approximately whether or not German faculties and other national institutions must be the use of Microsoft software at all.
Besides the info that German customers offer while they may be running with the platform, Microsoft Office 365 also transmits telemetry records lower back to the USA.
Last yr, investigators within the Netherlands located that that information should consist of something from fashionable software diagnostics to user content from inner applications, which includes sentences from documents and email subject lines. All of which contravenes the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, the Dutch said.
Germany’s personal Federal Office for Information Security additionally these days expressed issues about telemetry records that the Windows operating system sends.
To allay privacy fears in Germany, Microsoft invested tens of millions in a German cloud service, and in 2017 Hesse government said local schools ought to use Office 365. If German data remained inside u . S. A ., that turned into exceptional, Hesse’s information privacy commissioner, Michael Ronellenfitsch, stated.
But in August 2018 Microsoft decided to shut down the German provider. So yet again, data from neighborhood Office 365 customers might be information transmitted over the Atlantic. Several US laws, which include 2018’s CLOUD Act and 2015’s USA Freedom Act, provide the USA authorities extra rights to ask for statistics from tech corporations.
It’s clearly easy, Austrian digital-rights propose Max Schrems, who took a case on statistics transfers between the EU and US to the highest European court this week, tells ZDNet.
School scholars are typically now not able to provide consent, he points out. “And if records are despatched to Microsoft within the US, it’s miles subject to US mass-surveillance legal guidelines. This is unlawful beneath EU law.”
Even if it were not, public establishments in Germany – which include schools – have a particular responsibility for what they do with non-public information, and how transparent they’re approximate that, Hesse’s Ronellenfitsch defined in a statement.
Despite ongoing discussions among German government and Microsoft, pleasant those responsibilities haven’t been feasible.
A spokesperson for Microsoft tells ZDNet they are running on it: “We’re grateful the [Hesse] commissioner raised those worries and we look forward working with [them] to better understand their issues.”
The spokesperson additionally talked about that Microsoft has taken America authorities to court docket to defend purchaser statistics and that administrators of school and place of job bills can themselves restriction what information is despatched returned to Microsoft. The transmission of records cannot be switched off altogether, even though.
Schools are far from the handiest public institutions in Germany with misgivings about Microsoft. Earlier this yr, Vitako, Germany’s federal association of municipal IT carrier providers, complained that the use of Office 365 through local councils supposed personal statistics approximately German residents who were, as an example, applying for drivers’ licenses or marriage certificate, changed into probably also exposed to the US snooping.

For the cash we spend on software program licenses, one would count on a product that requires much less management and gives greater safety, one senior IT administrator from the metropolis of Cologne grumbled: “Instead it is a pricey risk for municipalities.”
In 2018, federal ministries and their diverse places of work spent nearly €73m ($82m) on licensing Microsoft packages – nearly €26m ($29m) greater than budgeted, most probable because of expiring licenses.
In a letter on the topic, the Ministry of the Interior stated that even as open-source software and other alternatives were being attempted out, German ministries currently had few alternatives apart from Microsoft.
In fact, all that is just part of a miles longer going for walks fight approximately how Europeans can hold their records secure from the US and Chinese eyes. Calls for Germany to paintings harder on ‘virtual sovereignty’ are increasing.
“We need to bear in mind this once more and positioned practical funding in the back of it,” Andreas Koenen, a senior member of the German Interior Ministry, argued for domestic cloud offerings at a conference in Berlin earlier this 12 months. “The political state of affairs is forcing this on us.”
The legal scenario may also quickly do so, too. On Tuesday, a case brought via Austrian activist Schrems became heard inside the European Court of Justice. Schrems already had one headline-making achievement there in 2015, when a case he introduced overturned the so-known as Safe Harbor settlement, which dominated on facts transfers among the EU and the US.

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