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Dutch ministries can keep using Yammer despite Patriot Act worries, minister says

Some members of parliament worry government data could secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies

Dutch ministries can keep using social networking tool Yammer for internal communication despite worries in the parliament that data could secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies under the U.S. Patriot Act, Liesbeth Spies, minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, said on Wednesday.

Yammer has been used by Dutch ministries for internal communication for a few years. The Ministry of the Interior has been using the social networking tool that allows users to communicate with each other through short messages since 2009, said Angélique van Drunen, spokeswoman for minister Spies. Yammer has for instance been used to share messages, collaborate on documents and for the exchange of agenda information.

The green political party of the Netherlands, GreenLeft, is worried about the government use of U.S.-based applications like Yammer, because the government cannot be certain how their data is handled by those companies. GreenLeft is in particular worried about the Patriot Act, because under that law, data from European users of U.S.-based cloud services can secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

By using Yammer, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, the government is leaking information, the party claims, and it called on the minister to "immediately close this leak."

However, minister Spies disagrees with this view. "I do not think there is a leak. And I therefore consider no further actions," she said in a letter sent to the parliament in which she responded to GreenLeft's concerns. There is no unlimited and uncontrolled access to the data by U.S. authorities, she wrote, referring to an earlier official response to Patriot Act issues in which she said that she was aware that it "cannot be excluded" that U.S. authorities have jurisdiction to demand access to data.

There also are rules that restrict social media use by Dutch government officials, which also apply to Yammer, Spies said. One of the principles of those rules is that it is forbidden to share confidential information, she added.

Yammer has been following the discussion in the Netherlands closely, said Angelika Kempf, the company's director of marketing and communications for Europe, the Middle-East and Asia, in an email. "To date Yammer has never received such a request or any court order or subpoena to provide access to any client data under the Patriot Act," she said. Yammer will only respond to a valid court order or subpoena, and never without the intervention of a judge, she added.

While the Dutch government is not particularly worried about U.S. authorities accessing their data using the Patriot Act, other governments are actively banning the use of U.S.-based cloud products.

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority, which is known to keep a short leash on U.S. IT companies, for instance banned the use of Google Apps in January because the cloud application violates the Norwegian privacy law. Enterprises that use Google Apps have no idea where in the world personal information is stored by Google, or who is able to access it, the authority said at the time. Therefore, Google is not allowed to offer its cloud services to Norwegian municipalities, public bodies and certain other enterprises.

European worries about the Patriot Act is also creating a market for local cloud providers that promote themselves as "a safe haven from the reaches of the U.S. Patriot Act."

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to [email protected]


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