Russian police and the Internet?
Fri, 21 Aug 1998 20:56:33 -0400
> Russia: Secret Police Lowering Iron Curtain On Internet
> By Julie Moffett
> Washington, 20 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian Internet expert says Russia's
> secret police are poised to implement a regulation that will permit them to
> monitor all electronic mail and Internet communications in the country without
> having to show a warrant.
> Anatoly Levenchuk, the webmaster of a special site devoted to educating the
> public about the new regulation, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview from
> Moscow that he is exposing the regulation, code-named SORM-2, as an attempt by
> the secret police to return to totalitarian-style tactics.
> Levenchuk says SORM-2 -- which stands for "systems for ensuring investigative
> activity" -- is an enhancement of SORM-1, a regulation already in place in
> Russia. According to Levenchuk, SORM-1, permits surveillance of specific
> electronic mail or Internet communication, but only after officials petition
> the courts for a warrant.
> Levenchuk says SORM-2 will permit the FSB -- the successor to the KGB -- to
> bypass the need for a warrant and thus be able to monitor, at will, the
> electronic mail and Internet correspondence of anyone using a Russian Internet
> service provider.
> Levenchuk says the SORM-2 regulation requires all Russian Internet and network
> providers to install a so-called 'black box,' or special surveillance device,
> in their main computers and devote a high-speed line directly to each local
> FSB department.
> Levenchuk adds that the FSB will then monitor the information "as needed and
> silently," without the Internet providers even knowing what material the FSB
> is reviewing.
> Says Levenchuk: "There should be witnesses or some oversight of SORM-2. For
> example, there should be an electronic log of all FSB activity which is
> accessible to other people so they can see what the FSB is doing.
> Unfortunately there is no discussion of any oversight. The FSB wants their
> surveillance to be silent, without witnesses and without warrants. And I am
> afraid of that."
> What is even more alarming, says Levenchuk, is that SORM-2 will be a
> regulation, not legislation. Therefore, it will not face review or discussion
> in the Duma or by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
> Levenchuk explains: "This regulation will have status of a ministerial act,
> and needs only to be approved by the Minister of Justice. Moreover, the
> regulation will originate in Goskomsviaz (State Committee of
> Telecommunications), not even in the FSB. The act, however, is sufficient
> enough to force this regulation on all Internet providers. Because in order
> for the providers to get a license, they must submit forms to Goskomsviaz that
> have been signed by FSB and show they meet all the requirements necessary."
> Levenchuk says FSB officials notified several of the major Internet providers
> of the forthcoming regulation by summoning them to a meeting and asking for
> their input.
> Says Levenchuk: "Several Internet providers go to this room where five or six
> FSB agents are waiting for them. The providers are completely silent when
> presented with SORM-2. I mean, this is a normal situation for us in Russia
> when a dictator asks for advice. After all, any dictator will listen only to
> advice he wants to hear. So, the providers made no comment and, in fact, even
> agreed to the new proposal. I'm not criticizing them for doing this. Their
> business depends on FSB support. If FSB doesn't like their behavior, they
> simply write a note to Goskomsviaz and their license is pulled or suspended."
> Levenchuk says the FSB justified SORM-2 by saying it is necessary in order to
> fight organized crime, electronic fraud, and tax evasion.
> The argument is absurd, says Levenchuk, because the mafia, and those wealthy
> enough to engage in tax evasion and the sort, will use special programs to
> encrypt their messages or simply dial long distance to a neighboring country
> and use a non-Russian Internet provider.
> Adding insult to injury, says Levenchuk, is that the FSB is requiring Russian
> Internet providers to foot the bill for SORM-2. He says it will cost the
> service providers about $1,000 per month for a devoted line to the FSB, and a
> one-time fee of about $5,000 for computer software to run the black box.
> Other unknown costs include maintenance and upgrades to the software, which
> Levenchuk estimates may be required every six months. He adds that there will
> also be a bureaucratic burden, although the extent of which is still unknown
> since the FSB hasn't said exactly how the provider will be involved in the
> investigative process.
> Levenchuk says this cost will probably be passed on to the user. He estimates
> that after SORM-2 is implemented, it will raise the cost of using the Internet
> in Russia by about 10 percent and likely put many of the smaller Internet
> providers out of business.
> Levenchuk says he has heard rumors that SORM-2 will be implemented in
> Even worse, Levenchuk fears it "cannot be stopped now."
> He adds: "I think it will be enacted. I do not know what to do to stop it.
> People here in Russia do not have a long tradition of freedom. I think none of
> the SORM enactors understand how deeply they are violating freedoms, civil
> rights and the law. Nor do the providers, or clients of the providers,
> understand what precise rights will be violated by SORM. All I can do is put
> the information on my web page and hope people see what is being done in my
> Levenchuk seems to have been successful in getting the word out.
> When contacted by RFE/RL, Barry Steinhardt, spokesman for the Global Internet
> Liberty Campaign -- a coalition of international organizations supporting free
> speech on the Internet -- said that SORM-2 is a "return to the bad old days of
> the KGB" in Russia.
> Said Steinhardt: "(The secret police) wants to be able to monitor all
> electronic mail in order -- they say -- to get access to a few pieces. But
> given the history of Russia's misuse of the state security agencies, there is
> absolutely no reason to believe they will restrict their snooping to a few bad
> The Internet Society -- an international, non-profit organization that focuses
> on standards, education, and policy issues regarding the Internet -- issued a
> statement to RFE/RL which says: "One of the key principles of the Internet
> Society is that on-line free expression is not restricted by excessive
> governmental or private controls over computer hardware or software,
> telecommunications infrastructure, or other essential components of the
> Internet. We support all honest attempts to combat terrorism and other
> criminal activity. But the Internet should not be used to police activities."
> Even Internet-savvy individuals in countries neighboring Russia are outraged.
> Mikhail Doroshevich, who lives in Belarus and is the webmaster for Internews
> Russia, told RFE/RL that he believes SORM not only violates the Russian
> constitution, but is an indication that democracy is not so alive and well in
> Russia. Says Doroshevich: "The vital point here is to oppose the idea of such
> censorship and violation of the rights of individuals. The users will,
> certainly, try to hide information. But why should that have to occur to the
> majority of loyal citizens? It again pushes people to be dishonest and
> undermines their trust of the government since it violates the right to
> confidentiality of correspondence and intrudes into the private lives of
> Levenchuk agrees. He says SORM-2 will have a negative effect on Internet
> development as a whole in Russia by causing foreigners to avoid Russian
> Internet providers and discouraging regular Russian citizens from using the
> Says Levenchuk: "The Internet is a network of trust. But SORM-2 will be an
> invisible curtain of distrust. It will be like an electronic iron curtain
> between Russia and all others."
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