Russian Duma Passes Alarming New “Big Brother” Law

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

July 1, 2016

The Russian Duma (lower house of parliament) has passed new a new anti-terrorist law. In addition to imposing harsh sentences on political dissenters, the so-called “Yarovaya law” hugely expands Russian ISPs’ responsibilities to store all communications, and to assist the government in decrypting encrypted messages.

The new law makes it a crime not to alert authorities to planned terrorist attacks, armed uprisings, hijacking and several other crimes. Showing any kind of approval of terrorism on the internet can now land you in jail for 7 years, and criminal responsibility for offenses has been lowered to the age of 14.  It is the expansion of Russia’s surveillance laws, however, that has drawn the most concern:

  • ISPs will be required to keep records of all telecoms communications for 6 months. This means not “just” metadata, but the actual content of texts, emails, instant messages, and browsing history.
  • Metadata will be stored for a total of 3 years.
  • Developers of social media apps are required to introduce backdoors into their products, and to help Russian authorities decrypt messages. Failure to do so can result in up to a 1 million rouble fine (approx. USD $15,000). Although apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram appear to the target of this provision, it is unclear how the legislation would be enforced against such international companies.

Senator Yelena Mizulina insisted that the law is necessary because teenagers gather in closed groups on the internet. Protected by encryption, they then plot to murder policemen! Although not currently a provision of the law, Mizulina even suggested that,

Maybe we should revisit the idea of pre-filtering [messages]. We cannot look silently on this.

An unworkable law?

Despite his highly precarious position as an asylum seeker under Russian protection, Edward Snowden has strongly criticized the “Yarovaya law”.

Aside from its “Big Brother” overtones, Snowden argues that the law is completely unworkable, given the ridiculously huge amount of data that ISPs would be required to store.

Russian ISPs seem to agree. The country’s three largest telecoms operators – MTS, Megafon and Vimpelcom – have publically rejected the proposal. They argue that the infrastructure required to comply with it would cost more than they could ever make from running their services!

Russian search engine Yandax has also argued that the law is an “excessive limitation of the rights of the companies and users.”

So why has the Russian Duma passed it?

If the law is unworkable (and most experts agree that it is), then why has the Russian lower house passed it? According to Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the security services,

Everybody knows it is simply too expensive. The real objective doesn’t seem to be surveillance, but to intimidate companies into cooperating with the authorities ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

As its nickname suggests, the new law is the brainchild of Irina Yarovaya, a hard-right member of the ruling United Russia party. Her Wikipedia entry is enlightening,

She gained fame as the author and co-author of multiple controversial, very unpopular and very low-quality laws, including the toughening of responsibility for violation of the rules of holding rallies, tightening immigration, criminal libel and registration requirements for ‘foreign agents’ for non-profit organizations with foreign funding. Irina Yarovaya is responsible for an exceptionally controversial Dima Yakovlev (Chase Harrison) law, which is also known as Ani-Magnitsky Act or as Law of Villains.

The legislation does not come into force until passed by Russia’s upper house (the Federation Council). According to Russian sources, however, “there is no doubt that this will happen.”

Even without this new law, the Russian government operates an extensive surveillance operation known as SORM. Last year the European Court of Human Rights found that SORM violated European Convention on Human Rights.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

4 responses to “Russian Duma Passes Alarming New “Big Brother” Law

  1. I agree for these two propositions :
    1-Inspections of mailed parcels.
    # i know that e.u sent poisoned perishable products : That is a shame !
    2-Revoking people’s citizenship.
    # what is the advantage to be a Russian citizen (or an u.s.a, u.k, china,e.u citizen) ? A lot of people do wish change their citizenship : That is so funny !

    The others propositions seem to be copied from usa & eu laws/gag order/rules : it sounds like if Russia was loosing his identity : nothing original or genuine , That’s a pity !

  2. More proof (as if we need more proof) that Russia is a terrified, Third World country. A land of thugs, thieves, and state-sponsored cheats and murderers.

    1. fritz, will you please write more details : statistics per countries/people/age/origin ? thx.
      *my last post was censored.

      1. Hi v13,

        We do not censor comments unless they are actively offensive. You comment was mislabeled as spam. I have now restored it.

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