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Russia’s New Data Storage Law: Protecting Information Or Silencing Dissent?
News broke late last week that Russia’s lower house of parliament had passed a law which required all internet companies operating inside the country to store Russian citizens’ personal data with the borders of its territory. The law is scheduled to come into effect on September 1st 2016 – a period of time which the authors of the bill hope will give companies sufficient time to build suitable data storage facilities.
Its supporters cite security concerns and data protection as the reasoning behind the bill, whereas its opponents have claimed that it’s a government attempt to limit the influence of social networks whilst also gaining greater access to user information. Which side is right?
The bill was first discussed after several Russian MPs stated that they believed that Russian citizen’s data would be safer in Russia than in the US. “Most Russians don’t want their data to leave Russia for the United States, where it can be hacked and given to criminals”, said MP Vadim Dengin upon introducing the bill to the Duma. “Our entire lives are stored over there, companies should build data centres within Russia”.
“All [internet] companies, including foreign ones, are welcome to store that information, but [they must] create data centers in Russia so that it can be controlled by Roscomnadzor” (the Federal Communications Supervisory Service).
Supporters believe the law is no different to the current EU policy of trying to legally protect online personal data. Leonid Levin, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Information Policy Committee, says the law serves similar goals to the recent decision by the European Court of Justice that forced Google to offer citizens within the continent the ‘right to be forgotten’ (though that in itself has been highly controversial). “The security of Russians’ personal data is one of the basic rights that should be protected, legally and otherwise,” Levin said.
Despite the seemingly noble intentions, critics believe the law is a way for the Russian government to serve it’s own interests. Social networks were widely used by protesters opposing President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, leading to widespread protests and brutal police crackdowns. Anton Nosik, Russia’s foremost internet entrepreneur, said he believes the law will be used to have a muffling effect. “The aim of this law is to create a quasi-legal pretext to close Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all other services” he said. “The ultimate goal is to shut mouths, enforce censorship in the country and shape a situation where internet businesses will not be able to exist and function properly”.
Worryingly, websites that don’t comply will be blacklisted by Roscomnadzor, which will have the power to limit access to them or even close them down entirely. After recently passing a law which requires bloggers with more than 3,000 hits per day to register with the government, several people think that Putin is simply trying to find another way to curb online dissent against government, which is rife and widespread when compared with the state controlled television channels. It is widely known Putin thinks the internet is ‘a CIA experiment’.
Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and other leading tech giants have reacted with disgust – though as they fight the US government over the assertion that Washington has the right to access data anywhere in the world if it was collected by a US-based company, it could yet be a law which oddly benefits them. Either way, it is certain that Russia’s latest laws will add increased pressure to the already strained relationship between the two countries.
Most concerning for internet companies is whether two years is enough time to make adequate alternative data storage plans. Particular concerned are the hotel and airline industries, who say that in order to develop the necessary booking systems they will need to build software from scratch. “If the law is passed in its current version, then Russians won’t be able to take a plane not only to Europe, they won’t even be able to by an online ticket from Moscow to St Petersburg,” the Director General of internet payment provider ChronoPay, Aleksey Kovyrshin, said.
It should be noted that the new bill must still be approved by both the upper chamber and Vladimir Putin before it becomes law, though this is expected to be a mere formality.
What do you think? Is Russia right to be concerned about American spying, or is this the latest attempt by Putin to control and subvert his fellow countrymen? Let us know in the comments below.
By Daniel Price