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Gmail, Macquarie, and US regulation

Google continues to successfully push Gmail into higher education, in an Australian deal with Macquarie University. (Microsoft is its primary competitor in this market, but for Microsoft, most such Live@edu represent cannibalization of their higher ed Exchange base.)

That, by itself, isn’t a particularly interesting announcement. Email SaaS is a huge trend, and the low-cost .edu offerings have been gaining particular momentum. What caught my eye was this:

The university was hesitant to move staff members on to Gmail due to regulatory and cost factors. They were concerned that their email messages would be subject to draconian US law. In particular, they were worried about protecting their intellectual property under the Patriot Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Mr. Bailey said. “In the end, Google agreed to store that data under EU jurisdiction, which we accepted,” he said.

That tells us that Google can divide their data storage into zones if need be, as one would expect, but it also tells us that they can do so for particular customers (presumably, given Google’s approach to the world, as a configurable, automated thing, and not as a one-off).

However, the remark about the Patriot Act and DMCA is what really caught my attention. DMCA is a worry for universities (due to the high likelihood of pirated media), but USA PATRIOT is a significant worry for a lot of the non-US clients that I talk to about cloud computing, especially those in Europe — to the point where I speak with clients who won’t use US-based vendors, even if the infrastructure itself is in Europe. (Australian clients are more likely to end up with a vendor that has somewhat local infrastructure to begin with, due to the latency issues.)

Cross-border issues are a serious barrier to cloud adoption in Europe in general, often due to regulatory requirements to keep data within-country (or sometimes less stringently, within the EU). That will make it more difficult for European cloud computing vendors to gain significant operational scale. (Whether this will also be the case in Asia remains to be seen.)

But if you’re in the US, it’s worth thinking about how the Patriot Act is perceived outside the US, and how it and any similar measures will limit the desire to use US-based cloud vendors. A lot of US-based folks tell me that they don’t understand why anyone would worry about it, but the “you should just trust that the US government won’t abuse it” story plays considerably less well elsewhere in the world.

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Domain names and Kentucky gambling

Last month, the state of Kentucky issued a seizure order for 141 domain names that it claimed were being used in connection with illegal gambling. (Full text of the order here.)

It’s a remarkable order. It asserts that probable cause exists to believe that the domain names are being used in connection with illegal gambling (despite the fact that some are parked domains, which would clearly indicate otherwise), and that as such, Kentucky is entitled to require the registrars to immediately transfer the registration for those domains to Kentucky or some other entity that it designates.

WebProNews has published statements from Governor Steve Beshear and his deputy communications director Jill Midkiff. The governor essentially claimed that illegal online gambling harms Kentucky’s legal gambling businesses, particularly the lottery and horse racing. But regardless of why it was done, it’s still a chilling potential precedent.

Yesterday, the judge in the case denied a dismissal, setting a forfeiture hearing for next month. He also stated that the sites would have 30 days to voluntarily block access by Kentucky users to avoid further legal problems. MarkMonitor (a provider of managed domain name and brand protection solutions) has posted the full text of the opinion, along with the key relevant questions raised by this case.

This case gets right to the heart of the question, “Who controls the Internet?” If Kentucky succeeds, it will fundamentally change our understanding of jurisdiction with regarding to domain names, with broad ramifications both within the United States and internationally.

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