Big Brother 2.0

July 20, 2016

Michael B. Farrell

“Russia’s new counterterrorism law takes Big Brother surveillance to a whole new level,” says Cynthia Wong of Human Rights Watch. She's talking about measures known as the “Yarovaya package" (named for conservative Russian politician Irina Yarovaya) that President Vladimir Putin signed into law this month. 

The package requires Russian telecoms to store customers' calls, texts, video messages, and emails for six months and keep metadata related to those communications for three years. And the Kremlin apparently won't need a warrant to access those databanks, either. According to The Independent, secure messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram will now be fined if they don't reveal encryption keys to the government. Ms. Wong says all this means that no communication in Russia will "be safe from government snooping, no matter how innocuous or unrelated to terrorism.” Or, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation puts it: "Russia’s new surveillance laws include some of Bad Internet Legislation’s greatest hits."

This type of mass surveillance doesn't come cheap, either. Bloomberg noted it could cost $30 billion to put the law into effect – something former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is exiled in Russia, noted in a tweet: "Signing the #BigBrother law must be condemned. Beyond political and constitution consequences, it is also a $33b+ tax on Russia's internet." And not all Russian politicians are pleased with the new surveillance regime. Opposition leader and former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov says it harkens back to the darker days of Soviet repression. “This is 100 percent a step toward an Iron Curtain.” // Michael B. Farrell