The Russian government, the State Duma, has passed a bill in both houses which mandates foreign web firms must store all data on Russian citizens within Russia. Companies have been given until 2016 to comply, and a failure to do so will see the sites blocked in Russia.
One of the bill’s main proponents, Liberal Democrat MP Vadim Dengin has suggested the bill was proposed to minimise foreign interference in Russian affairs. He stated “most Russians don’t want their data to leave Russia for the United States, where it can be hacked and given to criminals. Our entire lives are stored over there.”
However, the law has already faced widespread and multi-faceted concern. One of the main issues highlighted is the cost to giant global services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, who now have to make the decision between investing huge amounts of money in Russian data centres (built to demanding specifications) or having their services blocked in one of the largest countries in the world. With Facebook and Twitter traditionally refusing to hand over data to governments, it seems it will be the latter. It is worth noting that even if costly data centres aren’t erected in Russia, the Russian economy may still stand to gain from the move, through increased traffic to websites such as Yandex (Russia’s homegrown search engine), mail.ru (a Gmail competitor) and VKontakte (a competitor to Facebook).
However, dissenters have also noted that whilst there may be short-term financial boosts, being locked out of the global digital economy could hurt Russia in the long term.
There is also the concern that the move will lead to greater monitoring of Russian citizens by their goverment. Although data security on foreign servers is a valid concern, moving the data to Russia will make it much easier for the government to access it. Russia has recently passed a spate of bills which impinge upon the privacy and anonymity of its users. These include a law which requires bloggers to register themselves and conform with openness requirements, a law which states internet providers surrender detailed information on their users as requested and a law against “extremist” language which could see Russians facing a five-year prison sentence for retweeting incendiary material.
A spokesperson for Russia’s Association of Electronic Communication (RAEC), an internet lobbying group, has echoed these concerns. “Many global Internet services would be impossible,” they remarked “The bill takes the right of people over their own personal data away from them.”
Vladimir Kantorovich, vice president at the Russian Association of Tour Operators also remarked “They want the iron curtain all over again, with everything written on pieces of paper like in the Soviet Union. I feel like the Duma wants to lock us in an armoured cell for our protection without asking if we need it.”
The law stands to disrupt many groups- social media websites, Russian businesses which rely on international co-operation (such as airlines), Russian citizens and the whole Russian economy. The only way to know for sure how exactly the bill will disrupt the Russian digital landscape will be to wait and see.
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