Lawmakers seek to bolster Russia’s Internet sovereignty

A woman holds up a sign at a support rally for Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked documents to media outlets revealing the U.S. government's top-secret phone and Internet surveillance programs. Source: Reuters

A woman holds up a sign at a support rally for Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked documents to media outlets revealing the U.S. government's top-secret phone and Internet surveillance programs. Source: Reuters

Parliament considers legislation to protect personal data from foreign intelligence services.

Members of the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament are calling for tougher personal data protection laws, following the scandal that involved U.S. intelligence spying on social network users. Senators have promised a probe into illegal disclosure of Russians’ personal data by Internet companies to the U.S. government. Experts believe, however, that the authorities want to use personal security as a pretext for stepping up Internet regulation in Russia.

The Federation Council’s Commission on Development of the Information Society held a meeting on Wednesday, June 19, to discuss the scandal surrounding the disclosure by Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft of user – including that of Russian citizens – to American special services. By the end of the week, the Federation Council will set up an interdisciplinary group to investigate the spying of U.S. intelligence on Internet users.

“Major American companies provide U.S. special services with direct access to their servers – i.e., to accounts, bank cards, correspondence and any data of social network users – though this is in direct violation of the constitutions of all countries,” the commission’s head, Ruslan Gattarov, said.

The senator called improbable the Internet companies’ claims that they only share personal data at the request of special services.

First deputy speaker of the Federation Council, Alexander Torshin, expressed similar concerns. He called for toughening the legislation, in order to rule out unauthorized access by Western special services to Russian citizens’ personal data. He pointed out that such information could be used not only to fight terrorism and extremism but also to gain a competitive advantage.

Subsequently, the meeting participants attacked the Internet companies that had ignored invitations to send representatives to the meeting. Google bore the brunt of the criticism. Gattarov reproached the company for ignoring Russian citizens’ interests.

“Google representatives are frequent visitors to the State Duma, the Federation Council and the Ministry of Communications. They actively express their positions on any Internet-related bills. Whenever their interests are concerned, they lobby everywhere – when Russian citizens’ interests are concerned,” the senator said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s special representative for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, said not only should the American government give clarifications, but it should also take steps to rule out a situation where foreign citizens’ rights are infringed upon in the interests of protecting U.S. national security. According to him, besides leaking Russians’ personal information, data from three cellular operators had also been collected.

Google Russia believes the senators’ concerns about infringement of Russian Internet users’ rights are unfounded.

“These accusations are misleading. American special services have no direct access to user data,” Svetlana Anurova, Google’s representative in Russia, told Gazeta.ru.

“Personal security is an international task to be fulfilled as part of bilateral cooperation between Russia and the United States, among other ways. In our view, a toughening of the laws in Russia cannot achieve such goals,” she said.

Sergei Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the State Duma (the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament), joined Gattarov on Wednesday in calling for an investigation into the cooperation between major Internet companies and U.S. intelligence.

“We must ensure our country’s digital sovereignty and seriously protect citizens’ data,” he said.

The lawmaker proposed locating servers containing Russians’ personal data on Russian territory. 

The Kremlin has been paying increasing attention to controlling the Internet lately. The Russian government has repeatedly invited the global community to think about international regulation of the Internet.

Ivan Begtin, director of the nonprofit partnership Informational Culture, believes that Russian lawmakers will take advantage of the scandal over the transmission of Russians’ personal data to American special services, in order to increase Internet regulation.

“They [the government] will blacklist websites accused of storing personal data; this will be yet another tool for controlling the Internet. In fact, we are moving very fast down the Chinese path,” he told Gazeta.ru. “Instead of helping citizens go after corporations storing personal data, our state prefers to go after its citizens,” said Begtin.

Sergei Plutogarenko, director of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, believes there should be no toughening of the legislation.

“International cooperation should be expanded. At a time when Putin has agreed with Obama on a new data security strategy and cooperation with America, initiatives that, in my view, go against the grain of this trend are springing up,” he told Gazeta.ru.

First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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