The icy location is a big advantage for the new data centre that Facebook is planning in the northern Swedish town of Lulea. But while the frigid Arctic winds will fan the servers, it's the legal climate that could get hot.
A controversial Swedish internet surveillance law passed in 2008 allows the government there to intercept any internet traffic that passes Sweden's borders with no need for a court warrant. It's called the FRA law and the Swedes don't like it, and Google called it "unfit for a Western democracy". And the rest of Europe could start to get annoyed by it too when that internet traffic includes their Facebook data.
When the server kicks up in 2013, it will host Facebook for most of the site's European users and that will mean that photos of you at your sister's birthday party, your status updates and private messages to your girlfriend will be just part of the data pool that the Swedish executive will be able to dip in and of at its leisure. No legal permission necessary.
The Swedish surveillance law, which also extends to phones, was heavily criticised by Google's Peter Fleischer in 2007, who swore that the search engine would never site a server base there because it was "the most privacy-invasive legislation in Europe". Google currently has servers in Belgium and Finland.
A Reg Reader alerted us to the blog of Swedish Pirate Party leader Anna Troberg, who says [translated]
It is much worse news for a couple of hundred million European Facebook users, who will now connect to the servers in the catalog. It implies that everything they send to and from Facebook will pass through the FRA's filters.
Facebook's reaction? Well, they're just going to let it roll.
Access by public authorities to personal data is governed by national laws in all countries including in the US and Sweden. Facebook is committed to meeting its legal obligations in the countries where it operates and already has a team in place to respond to lawful requests from public authorities in Europe. We do not anticipate any changes to this structure with the opening of the new data centre.
Facebook stressed to us that it respected EU privacy laws and that the contract Facebook has with its users outside North America will be unaffected by the new data centre:
Facebook users outside North America have a contract with Facebook Ireland Ltd under Facebook’s terms of service. Facebook Ireland Ltd is already compliant with European Union data protection law and acts as the data controller for these users. Facebook Inc processes data on behalf of Facebook Ireland Ltd under contractual arrangements which are similar to those used by other international companies. We expect these legal arrangements to continue with the addition of the new data centre.