Putin gives green light to new anti-terrorism laws: a blow to freedom

RUSSIAPutin gives green light to new anti-terrorism laws: a blow to freedom

Nina Achmatova

The recently approved measures referred to as 'Big Brother' because they bring Internet and telephone communications under the control of the secret services, which now demand tools to decode encrypted messaging programs. Severe restrictions on religious freedom. Human rights activists and businesses revolt.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Despite criticism of human rights defenders and businesses Russian President Vladimir Putin signed - as was expected - the controversial "Yarovaya Law ", a package of anti-terrorist measures that contains strict control measures on telecommunications operators (TLC) and significant restrictions on religious freedom.

The new legislation - which takes its name from one of its promoters, the deputy Irina Yarovaya - requires phone companies and internet service providers to keep the traffic data between users (including photos, video, and audio messages ) for six months and metadata for three years. This is information that every company, if requested, will be forced to provide the Russian secret service (FSB).

In the case of using encrypted messaging programs, the internet has to provide the FSB keys for decoding. Failure to disclose such information is punishable by a fine of up to one million rubles (just over 14 thousand euro).

Major Russian phone companies have already said that the law is "inapplicable" for financial and technical reasons, and have warned that it could deal a serious blow to the development of the telecommunications sector. As well as forcing a review of the financing plans for the World Cup 2018 which TLC companies were due to contribute to financially and operatively.

Following the announcement this morning by the  Kremlin of these new draconian measures, the shares of the major phone companies lost value to the Moscow Stock Exchange amid widespread concern that the obligation to purchase a server capable of implementing the new measures will be reflected in an immediate increase in tariffs for consumers.

According to a calculation of the Mobile TeleSystems, one of the largest mobile operators in Russia, 'storage' of data for six months will cost over $ 30 billion. Putin has instructed the head of the FSB, Bortnikov Aleksnder, to find the keys necessary to monitor the users' online posts in the country within two weeks; at the same time he ordered the government to monitor the implementation of the law and make the corrections necessary to "minimize the economic impact" on the TLC sector.

The " Yarovaya Law " also reviews some of the bases of the Russian Criminal Code by introducing new offenses as "inciting or involvement in the organization of mass unrest" - punishable with imprisonment from 5 to 10 years - pursuing "failure to report" information relating to terrorist activities, coups or conspiracies and murders of statesmen and introducing life imprisonment for international terrorism.

It increases (22 to 32) the number of crimes with criminal liability for citizens between 14 and 17 years of age. Heavy restrictions are also placed on religious freedom: the new measures define missionary activity and prohibit it outside the places used for worship. To organize a religious procession, each participant must be in possession of a permit issued by the leaders of their communities.

Human Rights Watch has described the Yarovaya law as "an attack on freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the right to privacy". The representatives of the Protestant communities in Russia have called it "unconstitutional" and warned of the risk that the new measures would create "the basis for the mass persecution of believers" similar to the Soviet era.

Edward Snowden, the mole who denounced the mass surveillance programs of the National Security Agency and then fled to Russia, has for the first time publicly criticized the Kremlin on Twitter writing: "Putin has signed a new repressive law, that violates not only human rights, but common sense. It is a black day for Russia ".