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Russia's Blocking of LinkedIn

Russia Bans LinkedInRussia made its first move to block a western website using its data localization law. The first target, LinkedIn, was blocked for failing to store Russian personal data on a server located in Russia. As with all things Putin, its not as straight forward as it seems.

Back in 2014 Russia passed a law requiring that data on Russian citizens be stored and processed in Russia. The purported reason was to protect the data and privacy of those citizens. Other laws passed at the same time addressed Online Content, with the object of shielding children from indency and eliminating objectionable content. 

The government agency that oversees administration of the laws is Roskomnadzor, which supervises all things Telecom, Information Technology, and Mass Communications. Roskomnadzor keeps a Register of Infringers of Rights of Personal Data Subject and has the authority to tell the internet service provider that hosts an infringing site to cut off access to it.

The laws were widely critized for a number of reasons. The online content laws were thinly veiled censorship tools, granting powers to shut down bloggers and squelch dissent.  Entities such as email services, forums, social media sites and blogs are now required to register with the Roskomnadzor.

They are also required to store all user data for 6 months, and hand it over to authorities upon request. This could include user contacts and their relationships, all known email addresses, specific pages visited etc.

The data localization law was passed in July of 2014, giving companies until September 1st 2016 to come into compliance. From the outset critics said it would further strengthen Russia's control of its people, the internet, and foreign companies with a presence in Russia. Fears are that the government would force companies to turn over sensitive personal information about users. 

It also represented a large logistical and financial burden to affected companies. Compliance requires building data centers in Russia. A few companies have begun making strides toward data storage in Russia, including Google's parent company, Alphabet. But others, like Facebook and Twitter, have not. 

LinkedIn member stats show over 6 million registered members in Russia, but is by no means a leader in the social networking space. Some analysts refer to LinkedIn as "second tier" in Russia, and feel that may be the reason the Roskomnadzor chose it for the first enforcement action. Perhaps, they say, Roskomnadzor is giving notice to the tech giants that it is ready and willing to act.

Leonid Volkov, head of the Internet Defense Society NGO, said of Roskomnadzor “They want to show [other companies] that they can block someone... But they won’t ever be able to block Facebook.” He further stated “If you block WhatsApp, there will be protests in the streets. You can’t do that before an election.  LinkedIn isn’t popular and it hasn’t caught on [in Russia], but it’s important internationally.”

The ruling to block LinkedIn took place in August, according to Russian media. LinkedIn appealed, but the courts ruling to block was upheld on November 10 and the block took place on the 17th. A LinkedIn spokesman said "We remain interested in a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localisation request." A Roskomnadzor spokesman stated they are working on logistics for such a meeting.

The Roskomnadzor says it has already checked 1500 companies for compliance in accordance with its plan to conduct methodical investigations. It also stated that it turned its attention to LinkedIn after incidents involving the privacy and security of user data. This indicates that Roskomnadzor will respond to developments, real or fabricated, when deciding where to focus its investigations.