The consultation also addresses the issue of the security of the information stored in cloud services, and of who has responsibility for protecting data.
Cloud computing refers to the use of computers and software on an internet-based network to do information processing rather than the use of local computing resources. It allows internet users to access or store information without owning the software to do it and many online companies, such as Google, operate huge servers that store the data and deliver it to users.
The Commission appears to be considering measures to help standardise terms and conditions for using cloud services. The consultation asks it if it would be "useful" to establish "model Service Level Agreements or End User Agreements" within contractual agreements for cloud services, the consultation says.
The consultation asks if the rights and responsibilities for data protection in existing cloud services are clear.
The European Commission is encouraging people, businesses and public bodies to respond to its consultation on "data protection and liability questions, in particular in cross-border situations," said a Commission statement.
The consultation addresses the existing legal framework governing the protection of information stored on 'clouds'. It asks respondents to specify updates the Commission could apply to the EU Data Protection Directive "that could further facilitate cloud computing while preserving the level of protection," the European Commission's cloud computing consultation said.
The Commission has already said that it plans to update the Data Protection Directive later this year in response to the challenges posed by new technology.
Respondents are asked whether they know who has authority for deciding cloud service disputes, and invites users to suggest "an alternative approach to the determination of jurisdiction that may work better both for users and providers," the Commission's consultation says.
The issue of where responsibility lies for cloud services when users and providers are in different countries is addressed in the Commission's consultation. It also asks respondents to list any national data protection rules or laws that currently prevent people using or providing cloud services in the EU.
The Commission consultation asks how EU countries can work together to provide solutions and share best practices into how cloud services operate, and asks what the public sector can do to "support the emergence of best practices," the consultation said.
Respondents are asked if public sector deployment of electronic Government systems, to streamline and standardise services, would act as an example to business and others.
By 2014 worldwide cloud services revenue is expected to reach $148.8bn, representing massive growth in the industry, the consultation says, and it is asking '"stakeholders" to help shape the legal framework to help support the growth.
"The EU needs to become not only cloud-friendly but cloud-active to fully realise the benefits of Cloud Computing. Besides allowing for the provision of Cloud Computing in its various forms, the relevant environment in the EU has to address the needs of end users and protect the rights of citizens. At the same time, it should allow for the development of a strong industry in this sector in Europe," the consultation document said.
"I am excited about the potential benefits of cloud computing to cut costs, improve services and open up new business opportunities. We need a well-defined cloud computing strategy to ensure that we make the best use of this potential. The input we are requesting from all interested parties is important to get it right," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda.
The Commission's consultation is open until 31 August and the feedback will help shape its cloud computing strategy, the Commission said. The strategy will form part of the Commission's Digital Agenda for 2020 which aims to improve and update legal frameworks to address the impact of technology on people and the economy.
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