STOCKHOLM -- Facebook is to build a new server farm on the edge of the Arctic Circle -- its first outside the United States -- to improve performance for European users, Facebook officials said Thursday.

Facebook confirmed it had reviewed locations across Europe and decided on the Swedish city of Lulea for the data center partly because of the cold climate -- crucial for keeping the servers cool -- and access to renewable energy from nearby hydropower facilities. The move reflects the growing international presence of the California-based site, which counts 800 million users worldwide.

"Facebook has more users outside the U.S. than inside," Facebook director of site operations Tom Furlong told The Associated Press. "It was time for us to expand in Europe." He said European users would get better performance from having a node for data traffic closer to them. Facebook currently stores data at sites in California, Virginia and Oregon and is building another facility in North Carolina.

The Swedish Pirate Party, a small group that opposes government interference with the Internet but isn't represented in parliament, warned that placing the servers in Lulea would also expose European users to eavesdropping from a Swedish intelligence agency, the National Defence Radio Establishment.

The agency can conduct surveillance on phone and data traffic to and from Sweden under laws passed in 2008 to fight terrorism and crime. The laws have raised strong protests from privacy activists.

Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer called it "the most privacy-invasive legislation in Europe." Jan Fredriksson, a spokesman for Facebook in Sweden, said the company was confident that restrictions on the agency's surveillance activities would protect the integrity of regular Facebook users.

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