Putin adds to anti-freedom arsenal with latest privacy laws

Putin shootingRecent legislation pushed through the Russian Parliament will be a potent weapon in Putin's war on freedoms and rights. Human rights activists, privacy watchdogs, and telecom companies are vociferously critical, claiming the true purpose is to squash dissent and further undermine the freedoms and rights of the Russian people.

Part of the bill amends the counter terrorism law, and the other amends the IT and data protection law, specifically addressing data storage by telecoms and internet service providers. Freedom of expression and the right to privacy, especially on the internet, are severely curtailed by the news laws and others already in place. 

Liking a post or picture on social media can be considered extremist activity, and may result in a fine or imprisonment. "Failure to report a crime" is now a crime, with a mandatory prison sentence for those convicted of concealing information. The age of responsibility for a list of crimes has been lowered to the age of fourteen. 

The "crimes" are only vaguely defined even as the penalties associated with them grow harsher. Fines or prison terms of up to seven years are mandated for “public justification of terrorism” online and “inducing, recruiting, or otherwise involving” others in mass unrest.

New Data Storage Requirements for Telecoms and ISPs
Amendments to the feeble data protection and privacy laws call for affected companies to save nearly 100,000 times more data than is currently being stored.

Telecoms are reeling, and claim the new equipment needed to store the massive amounts of data will cost billions to install and millions per year to maintain. The cost of mobile service would double or triple at minimum they say. The government has since given vague reassurances about mitigating the crippling financial impact.

Storage requirements call for telecoms and ISPs to save the contents of text and voice messages, data, and images for six months. Metadata, which includes information about time, location,  sender and recipients of messages must be saved for up to three years. The data must be stored inside Russian territory and handed over to the government on request, without a court order.

If communications are in any way encrypted companies are obliged to provide decryption keys at the minimum. Some services don't keep encryption keys, leading to fears the government might demand backdoor access be built into encrypted services, weakening them.

The data storage law creates an immense pool of personal data, waiting to be served up on request by the government. Providing encryption keys or building in backdoor access weakens cybersecurity, leaving the data vulnerable to hackers and cyber criminals.

Privacy and security have been harmed rather than served and the government's powers to crush dissent have been further strengthened. With Parliamentary elections coming up this fall, the new legislation will prove an effective means of silencing the Kremlin's opponents.