New ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Law Will Feed Russia’s Mass-Surveillance Machine

Companies will be forced to retain months of customer data for Russia’s creepy mass-surveillance system.
July 9, 2016, 7:00pm
Image: Wikimedia Commons/MARIAJONER.

A sweeping anti-terrorism law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday will greatly expand the Kremlin's ability to monitor and control digital communications, sparking an outcry from privacy and human rights advocates—including the country's outspoken resident fugitive, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The so-called Yarovaya Law, named after the hawkish Russian lawmaker who championed it, "violates not only human rights, but common sense," signaling a "Dark day for #Russia," said Snowden.

Key among the new measures are provisions requiring Russian telecommunications providers to retain customers' phone records for 12 months, and store the contents of calls and messages for six months. The retained data will most certainly be channeled into SORM, a nationwide mass-interception system that gives the Russian FSB and other police authorities real-time, warrantless access to data transiting the country.

In addition to human rights concerns, the data storage requirements are causing consternation among Russian telecom companies, who say that building out the capacity to retain data for that long will cost them upwards of $33 billion in investment. The law also forces companies to assist Russian law enforcement in decrypting customers' encrypted communications, and penalizes those who refuse to do so.

The law's signing marked the end of the current legislative session for Russia's lawmaking body, granting the new surveillance powers just in time for upcoming parliamentary elections in September.

Snowden's vocal opposition to the Kremlin-backed law has also been notable. In the past, US national security hawks have accused Snowden—without any evidence—of being a Russian spy, claiming he was intentionally limiting his critiques of government surveillance so as not upset the rulers of his host country, where he was granted asylum in 2013 after giving a massive trove of NSA documents to journalists.

"People ask if I fear retaliation for my criticism. I do," Snowden said after voicing opposition to the law. "But it did not stop me from criticizing the @WhiteHouse, and will not stop me here."