Lawmakers seek to bolster Russia’s Internet sovereignty

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.

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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.


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“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

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

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

“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

Sergei Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the State Duma (the
lower chamber of Russia’s parliament), joined Gattarov
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

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 “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

“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

First published in Russian in

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