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FSB Will Welcome Russias Internet Server Law

Published: July 16, 2014 (Issue # 1820)


A little more than two years ago, in March 2012, Sergei Smirnov, first deputy director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, presented a policy paper about the threat to state power posed by social networks.

The venue he chose, a meeting of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, was no coincidence. The organizations members Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia and Tajikistan have begun to use their meetings to discuss and plan countermeasures against the types of social networks that played such an important role in the Arab Spring.

In essence, Smirnov said that Western intelligence agencies use the blogosphere to overthrow political regimes and the FSB was going to cleanse the Internet of their influence. At the same time, Smirnov admitted the FSB had not yet developed countermeasures. In other words, the FSB was still at a loss as to how to cope with social networks.

The reason for their difficulties was immediately apparent: The FSB only understood how to combat the influence of social networks located on Russian territory. Under Russian law, all communications operators and hosting providers are required to install surveillance and interception equipment, otherwise known as a back door.

This requirement is part of Russian intelligence agencies famous SORM, or System for Operative Investigative Activities. As one FSB employee told me in 2012, Why should we put pressure on social networks when we can use SORM to gather information from servers without their knowledge?

And so at the time of Smirnovs report, Russian intelligence agencies had just one problem how to deal with networks with servers physically located beyond Russias borders.

Now, two years later, the FSB has found a solution. The new law that the State Duma passed on July 4 prohibits the storing of Russians personal data anywhere but in Russia.

There is some irony in the fact that Russian intelligence agencies justify the expansion of their powers with the argument that they are protecting the personal data of Russian citizens.

In fact, nobody asked Russias Duma deputies to protect their personal data. In contrast to the people of Brazil, whose outrage over U.S. National Security Agency spying led to a similar draft law, Russians were not especially shocked by recent revelations about Washingtons global cyber espionage. On the contrary, Russian civic organizations strongly opposed the law.

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