If you are Russian or plan on traveling to Russia anytime soon, you should know about the new data retention laws there. Whereas normal media outlets are government owned and controlled, the internet there was generally left free and open. As of September 1st, 2015, a new set of data retention and internet laws went in to effect. These new laws require foreign and domestic companies to store data on all Russian citizens on to servers housed in Russian territory. Any company found not complying with this order will be added to a blacklist and fined. The Russian oversight committee may also order ISPs to block access to those websites. The new laws also give the Russian government broad sweeping powers to enforce more censorship rules.
Clearly, any Russian that hoped their internet would stay free and open, has not been aware of what has happened since Vladimir Putin returned to office in 2012. It should come as no surprise that anyone offering a dissenting opinion can be easily shut down. Of course, Putin denies the government is blocking or shutting down sites. He says he is “protecting the nation’s children from indecent content”.
These new laws come on the heels of a July 4th decision by Russia’s parliament, the Duma. Then, the Duma required blogs attracting more than 3,000 views per day to register with a communications watchdog, and gave permission to shut down those blogs without a court order. The Kremlin also adopted a law giving authorities power to block websites they deemed to be extremist or a threat to public order without a court ruling. Some of the blockades happened to Kremlin critics like Aleksei Navalny and Gary Kasparov, because they contained “calls for illegal activity”. That also includes any talk of separatism, since the Russian parliament passed amendments banning all public incitement in favor of it.
Many believe these new laws are targeted to anyone that disagrees with Putin’s unrecognized commandeering of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March of 2015. As most know, Vladimir Putin is a former member of the Soviet Union’s KGB. Though he will not publicly admit it, his actions perhaps suggest a secret motive to re-unify at least part of the former Soviet Union. By closing down dissenting websites and monitoring the actions of Russian citizens, he hopes to control the opinions of the people.
In a now famous 2012 US political debate between the sitting President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, Romney stated that Russia was without question, the US’s No. 1 geopolitical foe. Obama essentially told Romney that he was not concerned, because the Cold War had been over for 20 years. Apparently, no one bothered to share that information with Vladimir Putin. I believe most of the world would agree.