Russia cracks down on foreign internet firms

September 3
4:28 AM 2015

Russia has come up with a new law that empowers the government to not only block websites but also orders them to share data of Russian citizens.

The government can also ban sites which are not appropriate under the new law. It seems that Russian government is more particular with global major social media and other internet-based firms rather than individual companies that just upload the content on their web pages. 

Feeling the heat over the measures being taken by Putin-led Russian government, foreign global majors such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter held meetings with the Kremlin. These companies believed to have expressed their concerns over the new law that gives the government more teeth to block websites that don't toe the line with Russia. 

From Tuesday onwards, it's a different situation for foreign internet companies operating in Russia or have a presence in Russia. The latest move of Vladimir Putin-led government makes the total number of rules and regulations for controlling internet companies to 20 since Putin's re-election in 2012. 

According to the new law, Russian government can order technology firms to work with Russian customers to operate local servers to handle Russian personal data.  

Backing the new law, the Russian government says it would protect the privacy of citizens.

Recently Russian government has clamped down Wikipedia for a page involving drug use. In addition to Wikipedia, other sites that have been blocked include GitHub, Reddit and The Wayback Machine. 

After Wikipedia, Russian government's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor attempted to control Facebook for sharing data of Russian users. Facebook has rejected the order to transfer its Russian citizens' data to Russian territory. 

The law on personal data enforces foreign internet companies to transfer the data of Russian citizens, who are members on their sites, onto Russian territory. The new law is effective from 1 September 2015. 

The Russian government has banned Reddit for a post about magic mushrooms and The Wayback Machine for archiving web pages. 

Human rights activists express concern that such laws could be misused. The new law also enables officials to spy on citizens and enables the government to suppress anti-government political movements.

Not only Russia, countries like Germany and Brazil are also exploring the possible ways to crack down on social media sites.

However, legal experts say that law gives only a very vague definition of personal data. There are several questions arising about the new law. For instance, Are the foreign internet companies obliged to share the data with government agencies even if they agree to keep the data on Russian territory.

Is the new law applicable for foreign and Russian companies with branches in Russia. Will it also be applied to those which don't have affiliates in Russia. The communications and Press Ministry guidelines are only informal and not specific on several issues, observe legal experts.

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