Domestic spying

Is Russia's Surveillance State Being Modelled on the West?

New Russian anti-encryption and data retention laws look sadly familiar.


Igor Dolgov/Dreamstime

St. Petersburg, Russia—Did legislation in the United Kingdom and the United States inspire Russian authorities to adopt their country's new domestic spying laws? Maybe.

On July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the "Yarovaya Law," which came into effect earlier this week. The Yarovaya Law—named after Irina Yarovaya, the ultraconservative legislator who pushed for it—is styled as an "anti-terrorism" measure. Among other things, it mandates that telecommunications and internet service providers store all telephone conversations, text messages, videos, and picture messages for six months. In addition, telecom companies must retain for three years customer metadata—that is, data showing with whom, when, for how long, and from where they communicated. The law requires "the organizers of information distribution on the Internet" to do the same thing, except they need only retain the metadata for only one year.

Under the Yarovaya Law, providers of telecommunication services, such as a messenger app, a social network, an email client, or a website that encrypts its data, are required to help Russia's Federal Security Service decipher any message sent by its users. In other words, the new law essentially requires internet service providers to install back doors in their services. The fine for refusing to cooperate can be as high as a million rubles (more than $15,000).

In order to comply, telecommunications firms operating in Russia claim that they will have to build vast new data storage infrastructure costing many times more than they now make in profits. They also point out that most of the data storage technologies being required are manufactured outside of Russia. And they plausibly argue that the new rules will bring information technology investment and innovation in Russia to a halt.

From the authorities' point of view, the fact that most Russian telecoms will not be able to comply with the Yarovaya Law is a feature, not a bug. As the U.S.-based Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, those companies are now "de facto criminals," giving the Russian government "the leverage to extract from them any other concession it desires."

Russia Direct tellingly observes that "in Russia, the legislation is compared to the USA Patriot Act." But there is one big difference: "While the Patriot Act prescribed covert surveillance of citizens, the new so-called 'Yarovaya Law' mandates open surveillance." Russia is implementing what some lawmakers in the United States and the United Kingdom have long advocated in their own countries.

For example, Britain's Investigatory Powers Bill, nicknamed the "Snooper's Charter," was just passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and is now under consideration of the House of Lords. It sets up a review process that will likely end up authorizing the bulk collection and retention of telecommunications and internet metadata. (Earlier this week, the Court of Justice of European Union ruled that Britain's data retention mandates violate the right privacy of its citizens. But Brexit will make such rulings moot.) And like its Russian legal counterpart, the Investigatory Powers Bill gives the British government the authority to ban end-to-end encryption in telecommunications and web services and to force companies to provide "back doors" so that government spies can listen to and read citizens' communications. The House of Commons adopted this legislation in June, before the Russian Duma passed its new domestic spying law.

How about the United States? No doubt the extensive capabilities exercised in secret by the National Security Agency disclosed in 2013 must have elicited considerable professional envy among Russian spy agencies. Still, those revelations did provoke alarm among civil libertarians at home, prompting Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act last year, ending the National Security Agency's clandestine bulk collection of Americans' telecommunications data. Some analysts argue that despite this, when it comes to the NSA's domestic spying not much has actually changed.

Meanwhile supporters of domestic spying have been indefatigable in proposing legislation to undermine the privacy of U.S. citizens. For example, during the run-up to the passage of the USA Freedom Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed an amendment that would have required telephone companies to alert the government six months in advance before they change their data retention practices to keep phone records for less than 18 months. This was evidently so that spy agency officials would have an opportunity to intervene and try to force companies to continue to retain customer records. More recently, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced in April the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, which would force telecommunications and internet companies to obey court orders demanding access into their devices or services. Sounds reasonable, but the upshot is that the legislation would compel web service providers to create back doors enabling government snoops to read their customers' encrypted communications.

So was Russia's new Yarovaya Law actually inspired by British and American legislation, or is this case of independent invention? We can't say for sure. But the West's laws certainly didn't help.

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  1. Surprised that this law didn’t already exist in Putin’s Russia.

    1. I’m making over $14k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. check it out this website and go to tach tab for more details. This is what I do….

    2. I’m making over $14k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. check it out this website and go to tach tab for more details. This is what I do….

  2. In Putin’s Russia, law imitates you!

  3. Putin on the Ritz!

  4. The Yarovaya Law?named after Irina Yarovaya, the ultraconservative legislator who pushed for it…

    We should do things like that here in America. Moobs’ Law, The IRA Cheerleader’s Act, Congressman Taxcheat’s Law, Call Me Senator’s Law, The Island Capsizer’s Act, and so on.

    1. Moob’s Law.
      “I am the Law!” /my moobs

  5. I’m pretty sure this was originally titled, “How Trump Will Make Russia Jealous Of His Authoritarian Police State”

  6. I’m sure Edward Snowden is actively working with the Moscow hacker community to circumvent these new regulations.

  7. Sounds like they need better gun control in Germany. Many shots fired.…..s-say.html

    1. It’s well known its easier for Germans to get a gun than knoedel or wurst, so this doesn’t surprise me.

  8. You guys have got it backwards. According to Krugabe, Trump is in Putin’s hip pocket, and America will be a Russian client state if that great bulwark of freedom, Hillary Clinton is not elected.

    1. Better Red than dead!

  9. This is What Terror Looks Like

    On a beautiful day this summer, our public swimming pool was full of kids taking lessons and their families enjoying the sun. A man arrived and walked around the pool, with a handgun visible on his hip. He was not a law enforcement officer in uniform. Just a parent, it seemed, unknown to most there, walking around the pool, packing a pistol. No one had any idea if it was loaded or not. You can imagine the stress and worry this led to, with the memories of Orlando (and San Bernardino and Charleston and Newtown and on and on) fresh in people’s minds.

    Nothing actually… you know… happened.


    Close the pool, before one of those precious, innocent little children drowns!

    1. You can imagine the stress and worry this led to

      N… no, i can’t, actually. Because i am a (relatively) sane and reasonable individual.

    2. Murderous psychos always announce their intentions beforehand by wearing their gun on their hip in plain sight. /sarc

    3. I would say from the standpoint of safety, it’s probably good he didn’t have a badge and a uniform. Otherwise some dogs probably would have been shot, let alone someone lying prostrate upon the ground with their hands raised.

    4. Do gun-fapping assholes like you actually live in the real world, with other live real human beings, Retarded P Brooks?

  10. I’m going to use what’s-his-name’s rule on headlines and say “no”.

    If anything, it’s the reverse.

    Russia doesn’t need to figure out how to spy on its own people, they were experts at it decades ago, and they didn’t need laws to do it. They just did it because there were no limits on the State’s Authority.

  11. Today, in Tim Egan Watch:

    They didn’t riot in the streets of Cleveland, as Donald Trump said his supporters would do had things not gone his way. But you saw the raw essence of a riot, the madness and loss of reason, on display in four days of chaos at the Republican National Convention.

    For a campaign now devoted to “law and order,” the launch was mob rule: in spirit, in tone, in words. Long after we’ve forgotten Trump’s closing speech ? that paean to self, that nightmare portrait of an America where the lights have gone out ? we will remember the savagery just below the surface.

    Starting on night one, when Republicans chose to manipulate the grief-deranged mother of a terrorist victim, the build-up to the hanging of Hillary Clinton was never subtle.

    You want subtle?

    For moral justification this week, the pious Dr. Ben Carson linked Clinton to Lucifer ? the devil himself.

    We all know it is, in fact, Trump who is the Devil, made flesh.

    It never gets old.

    1. Tim Egan, Journalism’s premier drama queen, forever on the verbal fainting couch.

  12. “in Russia, the legislation is compared to the USA Patriot Act.”

    There’s a Yakov Smirnoff joke in hear somewhere…

  13. that`s how putin looks like in his life xD…..-29-30.jpg

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