President Putin signed the draconian “Yarovaya Law,” named after United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya who drafted the Orwellian bill in the name of anti-terrorism, into law. On June 24, its very last day in session before the summer break and the September parliamentary election, the Russian Parliament rammed through a bill – without any meaningful debate or scrutiny – on a set of legislative amendments that severely undermine freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and the right to privacy – all allegedly in the name of protecting the public from terrorism and extremists, put all really in the service of government control. The provisions will significantly increase governmental surveillance of citizens, punish anything deemed “extremism” harshly, apply to people as young as 14, restrict the freedom of religious missionaries, and punish those who do not report a crime, even a suspected one, to authorities.
Kremlin critics, telecom companies and fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden have decried a set of new anti-terrorism measures in Russia that they call an Orwellian encroachment on the privacy and civil freedoms of millions that revives the totalitarian control of the Soviet-era.
The bill would toughen punishment for acts deemed to be terrorism and for the organization of “mass unrest.” It would also introduce prison sentences of up to a year for those who fail to report such crimes. “Justification” of terrorism and extremism — a vaguely-defined category that includes making posts online — would also be punishable by up to seven years in jail under the new legislation.
Courts would be able to charge defendants as young as 14 as adults, and security officers would be entitled without a court ruling to ban individuals from leaving Russia over “extremist” actions, including Internet posts.
The bill, championed by the ruling United Russia party, was hastily voted in by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on June 24, the last day of the legislative season. The measure will take effect after it is approved by the upper chamber and President Vladimir Putin. It will go the upper chamber within weeks and is expected to pass without much opposition.
The proposed legislation has been dubbed the “Yarovaya law” after United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, who engineered the bill and has tabled a series of restrictive measures against opposition groups and foreign-funded NGOs. It was presented in response to the October bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt that killed 224.
Opposition and security experts call it some of the most repressive legislation since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing during the 2011 election that formed the current Duma prompted massive anti-Kremlin protests that attracted hundreds of thousands. Since then, the Kremlin has taken on a more isolationist, anti-Western and neoconservative tilt.
“This is an absolutely draconian law, even the Soviet Union did not have such an overwhelmingly repressive legislation,” said Gennady Gudkov, an opposition leader and former lawmaker evicted from the Duma for criticizing Putin’s policies. “This is 100% a step toward an Iron Curtain.“
Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who fled to Russia in 2013, lambasted the law as an expensive yet ineffective tool that will do little to protect Russians from terrorism.
“Russia’s new Big Brother law is an unworkable, unjustifiable violation of rights that should never be signed,” he said in a tweet.
“This bill will take money and liberty from every Russian without improving safety,” Snowden said in another tweet. The Yarovaya law will dramatically expand the Kremlin’s surveillance capabilities by forcing cellular and Internet service providers to store communication data such as voice mail, text messages and multimedia data for six months.
Russian telecom companies say that the law will deprive them of profits and a chance to expand their networks for years to come because of the expense of creating additional data centers. The step may cost up to 6 trillion rubles ($77 billion), according to an estimate by RBC Daily, a business publication.
The bills “put the industry on the brink of collapse,” says Shamil Baigin, a spokesman for MTS, one of Russia’s largest cellular-service providers. Service providers may face “degradation of voicemail quality, interruption of text message delivery or faulty web access,” he said.
The bills will also force telecom companies to keep metadata such as the locations and dates of phone calls for three years. Providers of email services and encrypted message apps will have to submit decoding keys to Russian authorities.
Pavel Durov, the owner of the popular messaging app Telegram who left the country in 2014, has already refused to provide the encryption keys, Russian media reported.
It is unclear whether Russian authorities will block Telegram, or how they would go about doing it. The app does not require an Internet connection to transfer messages and multimedia attachments.
After being elected president in 2000, Putin has led a crackdown on opposition groups, critics and independent media. His governments have adopted dozens of restrictive measures and continue to expand the list of materials that can be deemed “extremist” — which now includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Bible, comments about the Quran and Hindu scriptures, quotes from Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, and texts by prominent Kremlin critics.
In recent years, hundreds of Russians have been convicted and sentenced to up to 5 ½ years in jail for “extremist” publications — in some cases, for posting pro-Ukrainian, anti-Putin or nationalist messages online, according to Sova, a Moscow-based human rights group.
“The information monopoly exercised by the USA means unsanctioned and unhindered access to the personal data of any citizen in any country and limiting the special services’ access to resources that can be used for searching criminals. This is the kind of monopoly they have now,” Yarovaya said at a Moscow press conference on Wednesday.
She noted that as with any monopoly, the US dominance of information technology was dangerous.
At the same press conference, the Russian parliamentarian told journalists that the new package of anti-terrorist laws had been developed to protect the personal data of Russian citizens from any foreign interference, and that it would allow Russian companies to create their own technology to completely rule out foreign access to this information.
She also criticized statements that the new laws could lead to a significant raise in tariffs – as earlier claimed by representatives of various communication and data companies – as “attempts to demoralize society.”
“This is the very reason why [parliamentary majority party] United Russia has decided to give the government all powers to find technological decisions that would protect Russian citizens’ data,” she concluded.
President Vladimir Putin signed Yarovaya’s anti-terrorist bill into law earlier this month despite objections from internet companies and the business community.
Simultaneously with this move Putin issued a decree ordering measures to be taken so that the financial risks of the law will be minimal.
Apart from general measures targeting extremism and international terrorism, the bill contains a provision that obliges all communication companies, including internet providers, to retain information about their clients’ data traffic for three years (one year for messengers and social networks) and also to keep actual records of phone calls, messages and transferred files for six months.
The same law orders communications companies to hand over encryption keys to state security agencies on demand, allowing them to read encrypted data. Non-compliance could cost companies between 800,000 and 1 million rubles ($12,300 – $15,400) in fines. The amendments concerning data storage and security should come into force in 2018 to give data companies time to restructure and prepare the necessary hardware. The rest of the anti-terrorist package came into force as of July 20 this year.
Even in its preparatory stages the bill drew protests from Russian businesses, which complained that the state had offered them no compensation for the extensive and expensive measures needed to store the large amounts of data. Businesses warned that if they follow all the rules they would have to greatly increase their tariffs.
On Monday this week, senator Anton Belyakov drafted a motion postponing the actual introduction of the amendments concerning data storage from 2018 to 2023.
Commenting on this initiative, members of the Lower House Committee for Security said they intended to make any changes in the law only after it is tested through actual practice.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State – In May 2013, Glenn Greenwald set out for Hong Kong to meet an anonymous source who claimed to have astonishing evidence of pervasive government spying and insisted on communicating only through heavily encrypted channels. That source turned out to be the twenty-nine-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and his revelations about the agency’s widespread, systemic overreach proved to be some of the most explosive and consequential news in recent history, triggering a fierce debate over national security and information privacy.
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