Microsoft will let its foreign cloud customers decide what country their data is stored in as a way to avoid local laws that might compromise their data privacy, the company's top lawyer says.

Customers should have the choice of Microsoft data centres when they buy cloud services, says Brad Smith, the company's general counsel in an interview with the Financial Times.

Without this option customers' data could be stored in any of several data centres located in countries with varying privacy laws. Smith says knowing where the data is means customers can know what third-party access is allowed under the law and so decide what data to entrust to the cloud.

"People should have the ability to know whether their data are being subjected to the laws and access of governments in some other country and should have the ability to make an informed choice of where their data resides," he says in the Financial Times article.Smith says NSA spying on the data of citizens of other countries has forced Microsoft to offer the option.

A recent survey found that 27% of small-business IT pros surveyed in the UK and Canada were moving their data out of US hosting sites because of the NSA scandal.

These concerns are prompting some countries, including Brazil, to consider revising their data storage laws and prompting some providers, such as Deutsche Telecom, to create networks that prevent data originating and destined for within Germany's borders from leaving the country, according to IEEE Spectrum. The president of Brazil wants new undersea fiber optic cables for sending international traffic but that don't route the traffic through the U.S, IEEE Spectrum says.

Under U.S. law, service providers must turn over data about specific customers to the NSA if ordered to do so, regardless of where the data is stored.

Microsoft has data centres around the world. Its Azure cloud services are supported by centres in Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, the Netherlands, and in Illinois, Texas, Virginia and California in the U.S.

Under rules posted by Microsoft, data centres are assigned by geographic region as chosen by the customer. So a customer could choose Europe, but the data could be stored either in Ireland, the Netherlands or both at Microsoft's discretion.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on [email protected]_Greene.