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What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud Computing is a way of delivering computing power to you, wherever and whenever you need it, as a utility like water or electricity. Like such a utility, it allows you to use as much or as little as you need (be it processing power or data storage), when you need it and, thanks to the internet, where you need it. Like a utility, the provider shares a large resource among a pool of customers, allowing economies of scale and efficient sharing of demand. And like a utility, if you pay for Cloud computing services you often do so in proportion to your use, rather than a flat fee.

What are the legal issues arising from Cloud Computing?

In the same way that the electricity you use may have been generated in another country where costs are lower, the computer processing power or storage you buy via a Cloud service may be based in another country, or indeed may be divided between multiple locations. But as well as the cost and efficiency advantages this brings, this also raises issues of exporting your – or your customers’ – data abroad, of dealing with providers under different legal systems, and of the risks of not having visibility of where that data is.

Furthermore, you may well not have any direct relationship with or even awareness of the organisation(s) that ultimately store(s) or process(es) your data. This is because the Cloud provider that you deal with may itself use one or more other storage or processing providers. This can give rise to questions relating to ownership of data and liability for its loss or misuse.

How do these legal issues differ from those arising from conventional outsourcing or hosting?

In many ways they do not. After all, a traditional data hosting or server hire contract may have involved use of someone else’s storage or computer. But it would normally have been clear who you were dealing with and where your rented resources were. Such arrangements were also unlikely to have been established on a casual or informal basis. With Cloud computing, however, the location(s) of your data may be unclear, possibly even unidentifiable and it is also much easier to set up such an arrangement. The ease with which Cloud resources can be allocated and reallocated makes it more likely that it will be done without an appropriate review of the relevant legal issues.

What is the aim of the QMUL Cloud Legal Project?

There is currently considerable uncertainty as to the legal and regulatory status of several essential aspects of cloud computing.

The purpose of this project is to reduce that uncertainty via the production and dissemination of a series of scholarly yet practical research papers to address various legal and regulatory issues that will be fundamental to the successful development of cloud computing. It is intended that the research papers will demonstrate thought leadership in several complex and difficult areas of law and regulation that are of vital importance to governments and businesses globally. Read more about the QMUL Cloud Legal Project.

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