AWS digital sovereignty pledge: A new, independent sovereign cloud in Europe

From day one, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has believed it is essential that customers have control over their data, and choices for how they secure and manage that data in the cloud. Last year, we introduced the AWS Digital Sovereignty Pledge, our commitment to offering AWS customers the most advanced set of sovereignty controls and features available in the cloud.

AWS offers the largest and most comprehensive cloud infrastructure globally. Our approach from the beginning has been to make AWS sovereign-by-design. We built data protection features and controls in the AWS cloud with input from financial services, health care and government customers — who are among the most security- and data privacy-conscious organizations in the world. This has led to innovations like the AWS Nitro System, which powers all our modern Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and provides a strong physical and logical security boundary to enforce access restrictions so that nobody, including AWS employees, can access customer data running in Amazon EC2. The security design of the Nitro System has also been independently validated by the NCC Group in a public report.

With AWS, customers have always had control over the location of their data. In Europe, customers who need to comply with European data residency requirements have the choice to deploy their data to any of our eight existing AWS Regions (Ireland, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Stockholm, Milan, Zurich and Spain) to keep their data securely in Europe. To run their sensitive workloads, European customers can leverage the broadest and deepest portfolio of services, including AI, analytics, compute, database, internet of things, machine learning, mobile services and storage. To further support customers, we’ve innovated to offer more control and choice over their data. For example, we announced further transparency and assurances, and new dedicated infrastructure options with AWS ‘Dedicated Local Zones’.

To deliver enhanced operational resilience within the EU, only EU residents who are located in the EU will have control of the operations and support.

Announcing the AWS European Sovereign Cloud

When we speak to public-sector and regulated-industry customers in Europe, they share how they are facing incredible complexity with an evolving sovereignty landscape. Customers tell us they want to adopt the cloud, but are facing increasing regulatory scrutiny over data location, European operational autonomy and resilience. We’ve learned that these customers are concerned that they will have to choose between the full power of AWS or feature-limited sovereign cloud solutions. We’ve had deep engagements with European regulators, national cybersecurity authorities, and customers to understand how the sovereignty needs of customers can vary based on multiple factors, like location, sensitivity of workloads, and industry. We recently announced our plans to launch the AWS European Sovereign Cloud, a new, independent cloud for Europe, designed to help public sector organizations and customers in highly-regulated industries meet their evolving sovereignty needs. We’re designing the AWS European Sovereign Cloud to be separate and independent from our existing ‘regions’, with infrastructure located wholly within the European Union, with the same security, availability and performance our customers get from existing regions today. To deliver enhanced operational resilience within the EU, only EU residents who are located in the EU will have control of the operations and support for the AWS European Sovereign Cloud. The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will launch its first AWS Region in Germany available to all European customers.

Built on more than a decade of experience operating multiple independent clouds for the most critical and restricted workloads.

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will be sovereign-by-design, and will be built on more than a decade of experience operating multiple independent clouds for the most critical and restricted workloads. Like existing regions, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud will be built for high availability and resiliency, and powered by the AWS Nitro System, to help ensure the confidentiality and integrity of customer data. Customers will have the control and assurance that AWS will not access or use customer data for any purpose without their agreement. AWS gives customers the strongest sovereignty controls among leading cloud providers. For customers with enhanced data residency needs, the AWS European Sovereign cloud is designed to go further and will allow customers to keep all metadata they create (such as the roles, permissions, resource labels and configurations they use to run AWS) in the EU. The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will also be built with separate, in-region billing and usage metering systems.

Delivering operational autonomy

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will provide customers with the capability to meet stringent operational autonomy and data residency requirements. To deliver enhanced data residency and operational resilience within the EU, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud infrastructure will be operated independently from existing AWS Regions. To assure independent operation of the AWS European Sovereign Cloud, only personnel who are EU residents, located in the EU, will have control of day-to-day operations, including access to data centers, technical support and customer service.

Control without compromise

Though separate, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud will offer the same industry-leading architecture built for security and availability as other AWS Regions. This will include multiple ‘Availability Zones’, infrastructure that is placed in separate and distinct geographic locations, with enough distance to significantly reduce the risk of a single event impacting customers’ business continuity.

Continued AWS investment in Europe

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud represents continued AWS investment in Europe. AWS is committed to innovating to support European values and Europe’s digital future. We drive economic development through investing in infrastructure, jobs and skills in communities and countries across Europe. We are creating thousands of high-quality jobs and investing billions of euros in European economies. Amazon has created more than 100,000 permanent jobs across the EU. Some of our largest AWS development teams are located in Europe, with key centers in Dublin, Dresden and Berlin. As part of our continued commitment to contribute to the development of digital skills, we will hire and develop additional local personnel to operate and support the AWS European Sovereign Cloud.

Our commitments to our customers

We remain committed to giving our customers control and choices to help meet their evolving digital sovereignty needs. We continue to innovate sovereignty features, controls and assurances globally with AWS, without compromising on the full power of AWS.

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What were FDA’s concerns over Elon Musk’s Neuralink chip?

Since its founding in 2016, Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink has had the ambitious mission to build a next-generation brain implant with at least 100-times more brain connections than devices currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The company has now reached a significant milestone, having received FDA approval to begin human trials. So what were the issues keeping the technology in the pre-clinical trial phase for as long as it was? And have these concerns been addressed?

What is Neuralink?

Neuralink is making a Class III medical device known as a brain-computer interface (BCI). The device connects the brain to an external computer via a Bluetooth signal, enabling continuous communication back and forth.

The device itself is a coin-sized unit called a Link. It’s implanted within a small disk-shaped cutout in the skull using a precision surgical robot. The robot splices a thousand tiny threads from the Link to certain neurons in the brain. Each thread is about a quarter the diameter of a human hair.

Potential benefits

If Neuralink’s BCI can be made to work safely on humans, I believe the potential benefits would make the effort worthwhile.

The company says the device could enable precise control of prosthetic limbs, giving amputees natural motor skills. It could revolutionise treatment for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and spinal cord injuries. It also shows some promise for potential treatment of obesity, autism, depression, schizophrenia and tinnitus.

Several other neurotechnology companies and researchers have already developed BCI technologies that have helped people with limited mobility regain movement and complete daily tasks.

BCIs have also been used to help older people train their motor and cognitive abilities to moderate the worst effects of ageing.

Long road to human trials

In February 2021, Musk said Neuralink was working with the FDA to secure permission to start initial human trials later that year. But human trials didn’t commence in 2021.

Then, in March 2022, Neuralink made a further application to the FDA to establish its readiness to begin humans trials.
One year and three months later, on May 25 2023, Neuralink finally received FDA approval for its first human clinical trial. Given how hard Neuralink has pushed for permission to begin, we can assume it will begin very soon.

The approval has come less than six months after the US Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation into Neuralink over potential animal welfare violations.

What were the FDA’s concerns?

The FDA had quite a list of issues that needed to be resolved before human trials could commence, as was reported in a Reuters investigation, which claimed to have spoken to several Neuralink sources.

Most of these concerns called for Neuralink to perform thorough and repeated testing and data collection over an extended period. This was likely a deciding factor in why the approval process to begin human testing took as long as it did.

It can’t be said with certainty that all of the issues have been fully resolved. But considering the rigour of the FDA’s approval process, we might conclude they have at least been resolved to a point of satisfaction for the FDA.

Safe surgery – A precision robot known as Implant/r1 performs the surgical procedure to implant the Neuralink BCI. This robot surgeon had to be put through its paces to gather evidence that it could reliably and safely implant and remove the Neuralink BCI without damaging surrounding brain tissue, or creating the risk of infection, bleeding, inflammation or scarring.

Harmful side effects – Once implanted, the Neuralink BCI must function as intended. It must not unintentionally influence other brain functions, or cause any unwanted side effects such as seizures, headaches, mood changes, or cognitive impairment.

Safe power supply – In particular, overheating lithium-ion batteries can pose great risk to BCI users. When defective, such batteries have historically been known to overheat. They can even explode if the insulation between the cathode and anode (the metal electrode components) breaks down, resulting in a short circuit.

The longevity of the battery was also taken into account, as well as how easy it would be to safely replace from its position under the skin behind the ear. Since the FDA’s previous rejection, extensive tests have been conducted on the specially designed Neuralink battery to evaluate its performance, durability and bio-compatibility.

Wire migration – Then there is the risk of wire migration. The Link consists of a disk-shaped chip with very thin wire electrodes that connect to neurons in the brain.

Connecting these wires by means of a surgical robot is a major challenge in itself. But there is also the possibility the electrodes could move elsewhere in the brain over time due to natural movement, inflammation, or scar tissue formation. This would likely affect the proper functioning of the device, and could cause infection or damage to the brain tissue.

Neuralink had to conduct extensive animal studies and provide evidence its wires did not migrate significantly over time, or cause any adverse effects on the brain. The company also had to show it had a method for tracking and adjusting the position of the wires if this became necessary.

Implant removal – Another challenge Neuralink faced was that of safe implant removal. The FDA wanted to know how easy or difficult it would be to remove the device from the brain if this became necessary.

Data privacy and security – Strong safeguards are required to prevent data collected by the Link from being hacked, manipulated or otherwise misused. Neuralink would have had to assure the FDA it could avoid nightmare scenarios of hackers rendering its Link users vulnerable to interference, as well as guaranteeing the privacy of brain-wave data generated by the device.

The way ahead

Critics acknowledge the potential benefits of Neuralink, but caution the company to hasten slowly. Adequately addressing these issues will take time – and corners must not be cut when arriving at a solution.

Beyond the Link’s potential medical uses, Musk has made many radical claims regarding his future vision for the technology. He has claimed Neuralink could augment human intelligence by creating an on-demand connection with artificial intelligence systems – allowing, for example, improved cognition through enhanced memory, and improved learning and problem-solving skills.

He has even gone as far as to say the Link could allow high-bandwidth telepathic communication between two or more people connected via a mediating computer. Common sense would suggest these claims be put in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category.

The situation with Neuralink has clear parallels with current advancements in artificial intelligence (and the growing need to regulate it). As exciting as these technologies are, they must not be released to the public until proven to be safe. This can only be achieved by exhaustive testing.

David Tuffley is senior lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University. This article was republished from The Conversation.

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