Russia: ‘Big Brother’ Law Harms Security, Rights


Russia’s controversial anti-terrorism legislation is reminiscent of Soviet-era surveillance and will also likely contribute to crippling the Russian economy, notes Anna Borshchevskaya, an Ira Weiner fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy:

VPN service Private Internet Access (PIA) has already announced that it will leave the Russian market due to new anti-terrorism laws, The Moscow Times adds.

Leonid Volkov, an ally of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, has requested permission from Moscow City Hall to hold a rally against the controversial new anti-terror laws, The Moscow Times reports:

The request, posted on Volkov’s website Monday, says that roughly 2,000 people could attend the rally on the evening of July 26, to “protect the freedom of Internet in Russia” from censorship and surveillance. If approved, the rally will be held on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad in central Moscow, close to the offices of Russia’s Internet and media watchdog Roskomnadzor. Volkov, the head of the Russian Society for the Protection of the Internet, said that he hoped protesters would be joined by other organizations affected by the new laws.

Russia’s human rights activists and opposition politicians described the law as “unconstitutional.” Russia’s Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights urged Putin not to sign the law, adds Borshchevskaya (right), a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Known as the “Yarovaya Law,” put forward by ultraconservative United Russian lawmaker Irina Yarovaya (above), the measure includes new police and counterterrorism measures that directly echo the sweeping powers wielded by the KGB to stifle dissent and repress opposition activists throughout the Soviet era. But one largely overlooked aspect of the law is garnering new scrutiny and worry: tight restrictions on the activities of religious groups, notes Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.   “Russia’s new counterterrorism law takes Big Brother surveillance to a whole new level,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “No digital communication would be safe from government snooping, no matter how innocuous or unrelated to terrorism.”

The legislation requires telecommunications and Internet companies to retain copies of all contents of communications for six months, including text messages, voice, data, and images. Companies must also retain communications metadata for up to three years, which could include information about the time, location, and sender and recipients of messages. All information must be stored inside Russian territory, Human Rights Watch adds:

Internet and telecom companies will be required to disclose communications and metadata, as well as “all other information necessary,” to authorities, on request and without a court order. …These provisions expand already broad and troubling requirements to store user data locally. Federal Law No. 242-FZ requires certain service providers, foreign and domestic, to store all personal data of Russian citizens in databases located inside the country. ….

Equally troubling, the new counterterrorism law also requires Internet companies to provide to security authorities “information necessary for decoding” electronic messages if they encode messages or allow their users to employ “additional coding.” …. The day the counterterrorism bill was signed into law, President Putin ordered the Federal Security Service to define the list of technologies that must comply and set the procedure for disclosing such decryption keys within two weeks. The new provisions would broadly undermine privacy and other human rights. The data retention and localization requirements would intrude on the privacy of every Russian phone and internet user, even though the vast majority are under no suspicion of wrongdoing. It would also create vast stores of sensitive data and grant access to security agencies without judicial oversight. With legal protections for privacy already extremely weak in Russia, these provisions could greatly increase the information available to security services about every user’s communications, online activities, and movements. The anti-encryption provisions would also endanger activists and journalists who rely on encrypted messaging applications to communicate securely.

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