Facebook, Google and Twitter hit by new Russian internet law

By bne IntelliNews September 30, 2014

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Russia's official communications regulator Roskomnadzor says it will enforce a recently passed law that could force foreign-owned internet companies to store the data of Russian users on Russia data centres, as part of a Kremlin drive towards what it calls 'information sovereignty'. Major US-based internet companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter could be banned from operating in Russia if they fail to comply with the law. 

The law passed on September 24 requires global internet companies to store Russian user data on servers in Russia, to retain it for six months and to share it on request with Russian law enforcement authorities. Failure to comply with these measures could trigger "administrative penalties" that might end in the ban of those services from Russia, according to daily paper Izvestia.

Kremlin officials have been quoted recently commenting critically on the predominant influence of the US on architecture of the global internet.

"A fair share of unpredictability has arisen in the recent actions of our partners in the US and Europe, and we must be prepared for all situations," Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Interfax. "We know [who] the main administrator of the global internet is. And due to this unpredictability, we have to think about how to ensure our own national security."

According to Izvestia, Roskomnadzor has warned Google, Facebook, and Twitter, requesting their compliance with the law by registering as "organisers of information distribution”.          

The law requires such "organisers of information distribution" to store all Russian users' data on Russia-based servers, retain it for six months, share it with Russian authorities upon request, and force any user with over 3,000 followers to register as a "media outlet”, thus making them liable to censorship.

Internet experts are unsure whether the law will be fully implemented since that could massively disrupt the operation of the internet, including simple functions such as making a booking by international credit card. "I know that big firms like Google have been negotiating with the Russian government about this, and it's my impression that they might be willing to meet the law halfway," said Karen Kazaryan, chief analyst for the sectoral association Russian Association for Electronic Communications, as quoted by Christian Science Monitor. "I doubt that they're prepared to maintain their servers in Russia, but they could be willing to keep mirror images of the data for six months, and make other concessions," Kazaryan added, according to CSM. 

According to Russian Association for Electronic Communications statistics, Google has around 30m users in Russia, Facebook around 20m, and Twitter about 5m. Russia's leading search engine Yandex boasts 90m users, and its leading social media network VKontakte has 220m accounts.

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