Calls for home secretary to shed light on deal to store top-secret spy data in AWS cloud

Written by Sam Trendall on 28 October 2021 in News
News

Critics claim potential £1bn contract is ‘deeply concerning’, but former NCSC head describes move as ‘perfectly sensible decision’

Credit: Kris Tripplaar/SIPA USA/PA Images

Home secretary Priti Patel is facing calls to appear before parliament to shed light on a reported deal to store top-secret data from the UK’s intelligence services in an AWS cloud environment.

The Financial Times first reported that the tech firm has been awarded a contract that could be worth £1bn over the course of the next 10 years. The deal is understood to cover the hosting of intelligence data from GCHQ, MI5, MI6, and government departments including the Ministry of Defence. Information will be stored in the UK, and the use of a cloud environment is intended to allow for greater use of data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies.

In response to these reports, the shadow security minister Conor McGinn has written to his counterpart in government, Damian Hinds, requesting that the Home Office publicly answer questions about the contract, the process by which it was awarded, and what continuity plans are in place in the event of AWS outages or other technical issues.


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“These reports are deeply concerning and raise serious questions about the wider security safeguards in place when it comes to the potential risks of outsourcing critical elements of UK national security infrastructure to non-UK-based companies,” the letter says, according to the Guardian.

Neither the government nor AWS has yet commented on the deal, and McGinn’s missive demands that Patel makes a statement addressing questions and concerns.

But some are far less disquieted by the prospect of the intelligence services’ data moving into an Amazon environment.

Ciaran Martin, who was formerly chief executive of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, said that “this move to cloud seems a perfectly sensible decision by GCHQ”.

The nature of the data being hosted might be somewhat more eye-catching, but the GCHQ engagement represents only a tiny fraction of the sum total of government data and systems that now sit in AWS facilities.

Departments have spent hundreds of millions of pounds with the cloud firm in recent years – particularly following the introduction last year of the One Government Value Agreement, a pan-public sector arrangement which offers baseline discounts of 18% to customers signing up for three years of AWS storage and related services.

Major deals awarded to Amazon via the OGVA include £120m spent by the Home Office, £94m by HM Revenue and Customs, £57m by the Department for Work and Pensions, and £24m by the Ministry of Justice.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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