Russian Internet Freedom In Doubt As Putin Signs New Laws Targeting Facebook, Twitter

 @JeffStone500j.stone@ibtimes.com on July 23 2014 11:42 AM
Navalny
Russian opposition leader Navalny speaks to journalists after a court hearing in the city of Kirov on April 17, 2013 REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has authorized a new law that forces Internet companies conducting business in the country's borders to store Russian citizens’ data there, further tightening the government’s grip on Russians' online activity.

The Russian Duma (the national legislature) passed the bill upon its first reading earlier this month. 

Putin’s signature on the law now means that popular U.S.-based companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook will need to establish data centers in Russia no later than September 2016 if they want to continue operating there legally. The NSA leaks divulged by Edward Snowden revealed that international citizens who use American social networks are unwittingly spied upon because, as Facebook’s servers are located in the U.S., for instance, the NSA can legally compel the company to turn over any necessary information.

The new law has also been portrayed as a precursor to the Putin administration cutting off access to popular websites in the near future, though. Lawmakers have said that the law’s intended goal is to protect Russians from international hackers, although forcing Twitter and Facebook to operate in Moscow, for instance, will also give the government more sway to influence those companies and potentially force them to provide data on Russian social media activity, as well.

In June the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) also forced companies to encrypt the personal data of their customers using algorithms developed in Russia. Under another new policy, Roskomnadzor, a Russian telecommunication firm, will force Russian bloggers to abandon anonymity if they receive a Roskomnadzor notice, beginning on Aug. 1, 2014. Russian news agency Interfax reported that the firm will be able to impose orders that “limit access to information being handled with violations of the law on personal data protection.”

The government has already cracked down on blogs critical of Putin and Russian oligarchs. Alexei Navalny, a prominent social and political activist who ran for political office amid corruption charges widely believed to be trumped up, communicated with supporters primarily through his Live Journal, though that site was banned as Navalny’s reputation grew.

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