Can Local Data Storage Really Prevent International Surveillance?

By Matt Klinger

To prevent surveillance by the National Security Agency (N.S.A), some large companies with customers outside the U.S. are offering to store their client's data entirely abroad.  

Microsoft, for instance, recently indicated it would give customers some choice about where their data is stored.  Similarly, a Dutch telecom operator plans to set up servers in the Netherlands so that its encrypted data never leaves the country, while an alliance of German phone and internet operators have discussed doing a similar thing.  Going even a step further, Brazil has considered legislation that would force companies like Facebook to store data on Brazilian users inside the country.  And some European Union (E.U.) officials support requiring E.U. citizens' data to be stored within the union's borders.

But how effective are such measures likely to be?  Not very, according to some analysts, including a retired deputy director of the N.S.A.  It seems foreign countries that want to protect their citizens' data will have to benefit from legal reforms, such as changes to U.S. law or the adoption of a binding international instrument.  But such measures are unlikely to take effect soon, if at all.