Citing Cyber-Terrorism Threat, Russia Explores Internet Controls

Citing Cyber-Terrorism Threat, Russia Explores Internet Controls

MOSCOW -- An estimated 20 percent of the Russian population now has access to the Internet. Whereas the Putin administration exerts tight control over the major domestic broadcast and print media, it does not currently restrict the content of Internet sites on a wide scale. Web sites such as Gazeta.ru and Lenta.ru provide many of the articles and commentary that would normally otherwise appear in an opposition press. Several wealthy Russians living in political exile, including Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, own Russian-language websites that publicize their anti-Putin views to Russian audiences. In August 2006, Russian right-wing extremists used the Internet to coordinate a bomb attack against illegal migrants from Asia.

Nonetheless, the Russian government has a number of tools it can use to limit citizens' freedoms of speech and access to information (both guaranteed under the Russian Constitution) in order to protect Russian security. For example, the 1995 Communications Law provides for state regulation of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunications providers. In early 2006, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main government body responsible for ensuring domestic security, used this authority to pressure Russian Internet sites not to post copies of the Danish anti-Muslim cartoons that had sparked major unrest in other countries.

The Law on Operational Investigation Activity requires Russian law enforcement personnel to obtain a court order to tap telephone conversations, inspect electronic communications, or inspect postal correspondence. With such judicial approval, law enforcement can intercept domestic phone and Internet communications using the System of Operative Investigative Activities (SORM). The SORM requires ISPs to install surveillance devices and high-speed links to local FSB departments. A senior FSB official, Dmitri Frolov, has proposed mandatory registration of all mobile phones with Internet capabilities.

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