The Government of Spain and Microsoft collaborate to repatriate children's digital education data provided during the pandemic

News - 2023.2.20

The Government of Spain has reached a landmark agreement with Microsoft to repatriate data from Spanish schools used by children via technologies and stored in the EU, especially those generated during the pandemic. The US company is the first cloud service provider to confirm that the data provided to Microsoft when using Teams reside within the EU, and is committed to offering the possibility of returning them to the national territory once it launches its cloud region in Spain.

This initiative was launched by the State Secretariat for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (SEDIA), under the Ministry of Economy and Digital Transformation, following concerns about the processing of student data during the pandemic. The project has been named "Operation Guernica" as a nod to the importance of the return of Picasso's works of art to Spain with the arrival of democracy.

The return of this information is a milestone at European level for data sovereignty and, at the domestic level, for the government's digitalisation strategy. Protecting the data of Spanish citizens, and in particular of children, is a commitment to digital rights, which are human rights, enacted through the Charter of Digital Rights, which has already been taken as a reference and inspiration in the EU and in Latin American countries.

Unprecedented commitment to Spain

During the pandemic, the online communication and chat platforms proved to be of great help in connecting students to their schools and continuing with their schoolwork. At the time, the government tackled the debate on the storage and processing of Spanish school data in various meetings with the sector. Microsoft is the first company to show sensitivity to this issue and has confirmed through its president, Brad Smith, that all child data provided to Microsoft in the use of Teams are already processed and stored in data centres in the EU.

The First Vice-President and Minister for the Economy and Digital Transformation, Nadia Calviño, stressed that "data sovereignty is essential for the economic future as a strategic pillar in the new digital open economy".

Calviño stressed that governments and technology must move forward together to strengthen the strategic autonomy represented by data sovereignty, respecting the Charter of Digital Rights, of which Spain is a pioneer in Europe.

The company has also committed to offering the possibility of moving this data when available from its servers in the EU to Spain to be stored in Microsoft's data centres there, via the Advanced Data Residency programme.

Microsoft announced in May 2021 the EU Data Boundary initiative, designed to provide greater control and transparency over personal data, and to locate its storage and processing on servers in the EU.

Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said that "in today's global economy, customers, including schools and other public sector customers and businesses in Spain, continue to look for ways to advance their goals, protect their data and grow to improve efficiency. To support them, we are committed to providing trusted cloud services that are designed to harness the full power of the public cloud, while respecting European values and sovereignty needs".

To meet the needs of customers in the EU, the company has opened and is building data centres in more than 17 European regions, including Spain.

Digital sovereignty: a strategic line of action for the Government

The repatriation of the data provided to Microsoft, now stored in the EU, is a step forward in the digital sovereignty that the Government of Spain enacts at European and national levels. One of the objectives of this strategy is for the EU to be able to make decisions on how it deploys its digital transformation, while respecting digital rights and leaving no one behind.

In this context, digital sovereignty is built, among others means, on data sovereignty, i.e., on the ability of individuals and organisations to decide with whom to share their data and under what conditions. Spain is implementing this concept with the help of the Oficina Nacional del Dato, which organises a national ecosystem for data sharing based on the principles of sovereignty, federation and transparency with three clear priorities: the advancement of legislation on industrial data sharing, the definition of policies and the deployment of federation technologies that promote the creation of common European data spaces.

All the above is part of the Digital Agenda 2026, Spain's roadmap for successfully undertaking its digital transition process. This initiative consists of an ambitious proposal of measures that are already having an impact on the country's production model and economic growth, as demonstrated by Spain's leading position vis-à-vis its European partners and its leading role in the international debate on the digital transition.

Non official translation