All our Press, News and Articles

Comment on the Swedish Tax Agency’s memorandum on M365 and Teams

March 26, 2024

On 28 February 2024, Computer Sweden wrote that the Swedish Tax Agency had now decided to use Office 365 and Teams.

This sparked many reactions. For example, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise proclaimed that the Swedish Tax Agency can finally use American cloud services. A director at a large consulting firm – which is a Microsoft Cloud partner – wrote ”Finally! I feel my prayers have been heard. The Swedish Tax Agency’s staff can use working tools.”

The Swedish Tax Agency later published what it called a preliminary assessment and wrote ”At present, there is no decision that the Swedish Tax Agency will purchase Microsoft 365 and Teams.”

A supplier of alternatives to Microsoft 365 and Teams has also commented on the memorandum.

We believe that the Swedish Tax Agency’s report warrants comment for several reasons.

The comment in brief

  • The Swedish Tax Agency’s intended use of Microsoft 365, Teams and Entra ID is heavily restricted.
    • No documents, files or emails will be stored in Microsoft’s cloud. Teams chats will be automatically deleted after one day. No information subject to public sector confidentiality (OSL) shall be handled in the chat. No sensitive (special categories) personal data shall be handled in the chat. Features like file sharing, recording, live subtitles, transcription, telephony, etc. shall not be used.
  • The investigation explicitly states that the Swedish Tax Agency will not be able to exercise its responsibility under the Swedish Archives Act if it makes the change to Microsoft 365.
  • The scope of the investigation is very limited.
    • Significant questions are left unanswered, including an analysis from an information security perspective.
  • The report does not consider the GDPR’s rules that personal data must be protected from disclosure to third country authorities when a processor is used.
    • This applies in particular to Article 28(3)(a) and Article 32(4) of the GDPR.

What has the Tax Agency assessed?

The Swedish Tax Agency’s investigation is based on a very limited use case:

  • No documents, files or e-mails are stored in Microsoft’s cloud. All such data are managed by the Swedish Tax Agency.
  • The use of Teams is severely restricted. The proposal is that all chats are automatically deleted after 24 hours. No information covered by confidentiality will be handled in the chat. No sensitive personal data will be handled in the chat. No files will be shared over Teams.
  • Internal Teams meetings will apply Microsoft’s end-to-end encryption. This turns off several features. File sharing, recording, live subtitles, transcription, telephony and other features will not be used.
  • External meeting participants will need to install the Teams client software to participate in meetings with end-to-end encryption (such meetings will not be platform independent as the Teams desktop client is only officially supported on Windows and macOS).

AI functions are not touched upon at all, and it can be assumed that they are not included either.

We can assume that the majority of all organisations using Microsoft 365 and Teams today would have to severely limit their use if they choose to follow the Swedish Tax Agency’s example.

The proposal means that the Swedish Tax Agency would pay for the more expensive type of Microsoft licences, even though a lot of features would not be used. Why these restrictions?

With regard to Teams meetings between agency staff, the working group has chosen to ”only investigate a scope of meetings with limited functionality in order to meet the requirements of confidentiality and processing of personal data.”

The investigation also states that ”It has not been possible within the framework of this basic investigation to sufficiently highlight all relevant aspects of a transition to the products in question. Some questions therefore remain, such as regarding archiving, data protection and IT and information security, which must be dealt with in further work.”

Nevertheless, the investigation states that ”The working group’s preliminary assessment is that there are no legal, security or functional obstacles to the Swedish Tax Agency and the Swedish Enforcement Authority using Entra ID, M365Apps or Teams.”

Against this background, we wonder if the working group has considered its own report’s section on archiving rules applicable to the Swedish public sector. There it is explicitly stated that the Swedish Tax Agency will not be able to exercise its responsibility under the Archives Act if the agency switches to MS365, Teams and Entra ID.

The investigation further states that a risk analysis remains to be done, both from an information and IT security perspective. The investigation contains no information classification and associated risk assessment, either per agency branch or at an overall level. From an information security perspective, the investigation does not, for example, take into account the total amount of data that would be transferred to Microsoft regarding how the Swedish Tax Agency’s staff use the solutions and which external parties the authority has meetings with.

We now continue with some additional questions raised by the investigation.

Emergency readiness and role in civil defence

In 2021, the Swedish Tax Agency and the Enforcement Authority concluded that the agencies could not replace Skype with Teams. The investigation describes the 2021 Teams investigation as follows:

The 2021 investigation primarily covered the legal conditions for using Microsoft Teams. In the renewed investigation, other aspects have also been taken into account, such as emergency readiness and resilience, benefits to the organisation, the Swedish Tax Agency’s ability to deliver an IT workplace to other authorities and the fact that the alternatives to Microsoft 365 that are available have proved difficult to realise.

The 2021 inquiry had eight main sections. Three of these focused on legal issues. One section focused on benefits to the organisation, one section focused on the possibilities of using Teams based on a risk assessment and one section focused on appropriateness. Among other things, the section on appropriateness stated:

Already today, large amounts of information from Swedish authorities are collected at these three cloud service providers [Azure, AWS and GCP], which increases society’s vulnerability, as disruptions at any of these cloud service providers will affect many authorities at the same time … Against the background of, among other things, the increased threat to Sweden, the rearmament of [Sweden’s] total defence, the more strict Protective Security Act and developments in the field of data protection, it is obvious that authorities need to consider more parameters than before, primarily regarding security and digital sovereignty. It is therefore not possible for the Tax Agency and the Enforcement Authority to ignore the risks to Sweden’s sovereignty in their choice of solution for digital communication and co-operation.

The new investigation does not mention resilience other than where it is suggested that the 2021 investigation did not consider resilience. We cannot see that the new investigation provides any reasoning on how the Microsoft 365 solutions would affect the Swedish Tax Agency’s resilience, preparedness or resistance capability – either positively or negatively – as part of the civil defence.

The investigation states that the Swedish Tax Agency may need to keep Skype, which the agency currently operates on premises, in parallel with Teams. However, the investigation does not discuss how long Skype is expected to be a viable alternative and what the agency’s plan is in concrete terms for the day Microsoft stops updating Skype.

Scope of the investigation

The investigation has had a limited remit and leaves essential questions unanswered. We highlight some parts here where this is apparent.

A starting point for the investigation is a hypothetical scenario in which the implementation of the products is limited to a minimum level, e.g. with regard to what data is transmitted to Microsoft and what functionality is activated. This has enabled the analysis to focus on the basic version of the products. The results of this initial investigation thus form the basis for future investigations into whether additional functionalities can be added.

It has not been possible within the framework of this basic investigation to adequately examine all relevant aspects of a transition to the products in question. Some questions therefore remain, such as regarding archive management, data protection and IT and information security, which must be dealt with in further work.

The working group’s initial task has been to investigate whether there have been changes that mean that there are currently legal conditions for proceeding with an in-depth assessment of the services in question.

The report is based strictly on the established delimitation. The amount of information created and processed through the Swedish Tax Agency’s use of the services in question has been limited to a necessary level. It remains to be analysed how the services can be used in practice and what technical and administrative challenges are identified … This report needs to be followed by a more in-depth study. Risk analysis from both an information and IT security perspective needs to be carried out.

A problem of a fundamental nature is that service and diagnostic data is preserved according to Microsoft’s default settings. This means that, in practice, the dates for deletion of public sector documents (in scope under Sweden’s fundamental laws and other provisions) will be determined by Microsoft, not by the Swedish Tax Agency. It is unclear whether the Swedish Tax Agency, after having made its own assessment of how long the documents are needed for its operations, can give Microsoft instructions on which deletion deadlines should apply to the documents or that the documents should be preserved. Furthermore, it is Microsoft’s routines, which may change over time, that govern what information is entered into the logs for service and diagnostic data and how the logs work. In these respects, the Swedish Tax Agency will thus lack a real ability to exercise its archival responsibility under Section 4 of the Archives Act, if the Swedish Tax Agency switches to M365Apps, Teams and Entra ID.

The view on disclosures to third countries

The investigation seems to assume that it is possible to make a risk assessment under Article 32 of the GDPR to accept the possibility that third country authorities can access data that the Swedish Tax Agency makes available to Microsoft. It may be assumed that the investigation refers to Article 32(1) of the GDPR.

However, the investigation’s starting point does not seem to be compatible with the GDPR. The rules on using processors state that the processor’s guarantees must relate to measures taken in such a manner that processing will meet the requirements of the GDPR and ensure the protection of the rights of persons. This requires more than simply meeting the security requirements of Article 32(1). For example, the GDPR also includes the data protection principles in Article 5 and the requirement for a legal basis in Article 6.

In addition, the GDPR has specific rules aimed at protecting personal data held by a processor from being disclosed to third country authorities. These rules are found in Article 28(3)(a) and 32(4) GDPR. The Swedish Tax Agency has not considered these rules in its investigation, which is a shortcoming.

Cleura describes these rules and their meaning in the section GDPR protection against access from third countries in the report What your organisation needs to know about the third adequacy decision.

The EDPS, which is the supervisory authority for the EU institutions, has assessed that the European Commission has used Microsoft 365 unlawfully for several reasons. Specifically, the EDPS points out that the European Commission, under rules equivalent to Article 28(3)(a) GDPR, did not ensure that only EU law or the national law of a member state can prevent the processor (Microsoft and its sub-processors) from informing the controller (the European Commission) of disclosures of personal data in the EU to third country authorities. The European Commission had also not done enough under the provision equivalent to Article 32 GDPR to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of personal data.

End-to-end encryption (E2EE)

In the investigation, the Swedish Tax Agency places confidence in the end-to-end encryption (E2EE) that Microsoft offers in Teams for those who pay for a more expensive licence.

We do not believe it is wise to rely on encryption that Microsoft fully controls in order to protect data in Microsoft’s cloud from US authorities. Indeed, the functioning of such encryption appears to rely in practice on contractual guarantees. US intelligence laws can override contractual guarantees.

As we have discussed in our report US vs. European surveillance: analysing differences in the protection of rights when using cloud services, US intelligence collection laws like FISA 702 can compel a US cloud service provider to take all necessary measures to accomplish an ”acquisition” of information.

It may well be the case that Microsoft cannot break the encryption of a data stream once it has been encrypted in the way Microsoft describes how the end-to-end encryption in the Teams service and software is intended to work. However, since Microsoft controls the functioning of the Teams service and software, another question arises: can Microsoft be compelled to change the functioning of the Teams service and software, at least in individual cases? For example, could Microsoft send an instruction to the Teams software used by a particular organisation – perhaps even by specific individuals – to use encryption keys that Microsoft already has copies of? In that case, Microsoft would be able to decrypt data streams passing through Microsoft’s cloud.

The investigation seems to assume that Microsoft’s contractual guarantees can be relied upon without exception for what US law can force Microsoft to do. There is no analysis of this in relation to Microsoft’s end-to-end encryption and what ability the Swedish Tax Agency has – if any – to subsequently discover if an encrypted data stream has been decrypted.

We therefore do not see that it has been shown that encryption where Microsoft decides how the keys are handled can provide the Swedish Tax Agency’s data with appropriate protection. If we assume that the encryption is meant to protect against access by US authorities, it also does not seem like the encryption fulfils the encryption for third country transfers that the EDPB describes in recommendations 01/2020.

Against this background, we note that our conclusions on encryption in the report What your organisation needs to know about the third adequacy decision remain relevant.

The investigation’s ability to act independently

Parts of the investigation, in particular parts of sections 2.2.1, 2.3 and 2.4 of the Annex on Teams, appear as if they could have been written by Microsoft or by someone acting on behalf of Microsoft.

We reach this conclusion for the following reasons:

  • Some statements about Microsoft’s services are accepted as established truth, rather than being described as information provided by Microsoft.
  • Some statements even appear as if they could have been marketing material from Microsoft. For example:
    • Det är väsentligt att poängtera att Microsofts insamling, bearbetning och användning av diagnostikdata regleras av deras dataskyddspolicy samt tillämpliga dataskyddsförordningar, såsom Allmänna dataskyddsförordningen (GDPR) inom Europeiska unionen. Microsoft förbinder sig att hantera denna data på ett sätt som respekterar användarnas integritet och säkerhet”. (translated into English, this would be ”It is essential to emphasise that Microsoft’s collection, processing and use of diagnostic data is governed by its privacy policy and applicable data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) within the European Union. Microsoft is committed to handling this data in a way that respects the privacy and security of its users.”)
  • The language in these sections is in part unnatural or incorrect (”data protection regulations”) in a way that suggests direct translation from English.

Lock-in, increased costs and loss of control

The 2021 Teams study considered the risks of vendor lock-in and price increases for Microsoft’s cloud services. The new report does not.

What the report mentions is that the agency needs to have an exit strategy, investigate possible alternative solutions and have alternative ways of communication in cases where Microsoft’s services are unavailable. So far so good. However, the report does not explain for what data there must be an ability to migrate to a different supplier, with how little notice this must be possible and how this would be accomplished. A different supplier’s solution must first be introduced in order to be used as an alternative communication route, or in order to continue using exported data.

When an organization makes itself dependent on a specific supplier’s solutions, without having a real alternative, the supplier is put in a position of power. The more important the supplier’s solution is for the organization, and the more difficult it is for the organization to change supplier, the stronger the supplier’s position becomes.

This applies both to the supplier’s pricing power and the supplier’s freedom to unilaterally change the services and the contract terms that govern how the services are delivered. Here we will primarily focus on the economic consequences.

The case of vendor lock-in in Denmark

In Denmark, the public sector is deeply dependent on Microsoft. We also have a good picture of the economic consequences of this. Danish media, not least the publication Version2, but also Danish public service media, have devoted considerable attention to the issue.

Vendor lock-in is “fundamentally problematic”

In 2018, Danish municipalities paid at least DKK 313 million to Microsoft; by 2023, the figure is around DKK 538 million. An increase by more than 70 percent.

Vendor lock-in: Bar chart of Danish municipalities' Microsoft expenditure during 2018-2023. Source:

In Denmark, there is no doubt that this is a problem. The issue has been raised at the government level. Denmark’s liberal Minister for Digitalization has commented on the dependency to Version 2, describing it as “fundamentally problematic”, adding “When technology giants use their dominant position to raise prices without us being able to opt out [of using their services], we have to spend even more tax money without getting more value.” Microsoft itself sees no issue with the pricing, which it has described as “fair”.

The Danish government has now set aside money to investigate promoting the use of open source in the public sector. The government has also set up an expert group because of the tech giants. Version2 reports that the chairman of the expert group shares the concerns of the Minister for Digitalization. He sees the dependency as a major societal concern. “You give up the possibility of democratic control that we have in other areas. It just doesn’t exist in the same way in this area. It is as if we have forgotten that digital is also a form of infrastructure that is actually very critical for a society, and that is important to both invest in and have some kind of control over,” he says.

The chair of the Association of Municipal IT and Digitalization Managers in Denmark, who is himself head of IT at a municipality, has also highlighted the vendor lock-in concerns from a municipal perspective. While Microsoft’s products do improve over time, he tells DR that “The extra things we get we can’t necessarily use to provide services to citizens more efficiently. That makes it unlikely that we can find savings elsewhere.”

As license costs increase, big IT providers rake in money

In Swedish media, Computer Sweden has cited a report stating that public sector spending on IT services has increased by 25 percent since 2019. “And it’s the big IT service providers that are raking in the money. Although 98 percent of the suppliers that sold to the public sector between 2019 and 2022 were small and medium-sized enterprises, the large companies, which accounted for only two percent, accounted for 67 percent of public sector payments for IT services.”

It is sometimes argued that US cloud service providers are necessary to meet the welfare challenge, where fewer people have to support a population growing older. In October 2023, Version2 reported:

The public sector is experiencing large price increases for IT licenses, so large that the Capital Region of Denmark laid off 150 employees in the spring. If you look at one of the largest IT suppliers to municipalities, Microsoft has generally increased the price of licenses by 40 percent in recent years.

These were not particularly sophisticated solutions, but entirely basic systems that now cost more than before.