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France bans the use of Office 365 and Google Workspace in schools

The Minister of national education of France has said that free versions of Microsoft Office 365 or Google Workspace should not be used in schools in the country, a position that reflects growing European concerns about data sovereignty, competition and privacy rules. According to The Register, last August, Philippe Latombe, a member of the French National Assembly, told the The country’s national education minister, Pap Ndiayethat the free versions mentioned, although attractive, are not advisable.

Latombe then asked the minister what he intended to do about it, given the data sovereignty issues surrounding the storage of personal data in a US cloud service. He has not received a response until last week, when the minister published a written response. It notes that France’s public procurement contracts require “consideration.” I mean, pay.

So, “free service offers are, in principle, excluded from the scope of public contracts«. This is true of other free offers, such as Google Workspace for Education. Paid versions of these cloud services should be an option if they have not been banned based on data security concerns. French authorities consider that cloud services that store data in the United States do not comply with European data regulations, such as the GDPR.

On September 15, Nadi Bou Hanna, Director of DINUMFrance’s interministerial digital department, said in a letter that French government agencies that were considering cloud services to replace office and messaging products on government servers should not use Office 365 because they did not comply with the “Cloud in the center” of France.

Referring to DINUM’s position, to the Prime Minister’s “Cloud at the center” policy and to a May 2021 note from the National Commission for Computing and Liberties (CNIL) advising higher educational institutions to use cloud services collaboration in the cloud that respect the RGPD, the Minister of Education advised the aforementioned institutions to avoid the deployment of Office 365 or Google Workspace. German data protection authorities came to a similar conclusion in 2019, when they banned the use of Microsoft Office 365 in classrooms in the state of Hessen.

Microsoft has not commented on the matter. However, Redmond announced this summer Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignity, a service that will allow public sector customers to use Microsoft cloud services in a way that complies with data protection policies. In addition, the company has plans to roll out its EU Data Cap, through which EU customer data can be processed in a data-compliant manner by the end of 2022. Google adopted last year a similar initiative, also to comply with EU data protection demands.

Last month, President Biden signed an executive order directing US agencies to implement the Transatlantic Data Privacy Framework. Now, the EU has to take several steps to adopt the rules that lead to facilitating compliance with the framework, which can take some time. When this happens, data transfers between the US and the EU should be easier, and manageable. And Microsoft and Google may have an easier time with cloud contracts from European governments.

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