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Political pressure on Russia leads to unpopular security measures on Internet

August 08, 2014, 15:49 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Pavel Smetrin

MOSCOW, August 08. /ITAR-TASS/. New restrictions on Russian web users result from escalating tension on the international arena and state security needs, but it is important not to go overboard, say Russian experts.

A decree released on the government’s site on Friday bans anonymous Wi-Fi access in public places and requires passport data for wireless access to the Internet.

Meanwhile, according to Moscow government information technology department head Artyom Ermolaev, the ban will only affect public access points, in particular any located in Russian Post offices. The Federal Communications Agency register has 21,000 such points on record.

Until differences between the government decree and the official’s interpretation are officially explained, the question of anonymous Wi-Fi access on the Metro and in parks and cafes remains unanswered.

Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, has decided on additional measures to protect information not to be disclosed by civil servants. Along with state secrets, lawmakers plan to introduce a criminal penalty for spreading insider information through non-state mail servers such as gmail.com, mail.ru, yandex.ru and cloud services.

“The Duma initiative to prohibit officials from having work correspondence though non-state servers is fair and justified,” said former press officer of Russia's foreign intelligence service Major General Yury Kobaladze, now consultant to UBS Bank.

“This is a popular practice worldwide. I am working in a Western bank and we are not allowed to discuss business issues with colleagues via personal e-mail. You can probably only order an airline ticket,” he told ITAR-TASS.

The expert finds the ban on anonymous Wi-Fi access doubtful.

“This Wi-Fi was so much promoted, and now they consider restrictions! If I urgently need to find some piece of information while on the metro and enter passport details, competitors at their PCs will quickly leave me behind,” he said.

Experts are skeptical about monitoring users’ personal data in public places. This is an unrealisable initiative because of the number of Internet users on the metro, at railway stations and airports, said Rambler and Co’s government relations director Matvey Alekseev.

“Nobody will be able to check authenticity of personal data provided by Wi-Fi users,” said a provider’s representative.

“Certainly, this will be rather inconvenient. You will no more be able to surf the Internet on smartphone on the run. On the other hand, everything should be done for security’s sake. The less anonymity, the less anonymous extremist posts and videos on the Internet,” a Wi-Fi user wrote in a social network.

“Anonymity on the Internet? Has there been any? Identification though passport details is just an additional way to ensure that users do not write what they should not,” believes another blogger.

“Obviously, the creeping conflict between Russia and the West amid events in Ukraine requires unpopular measures in relation to the Internet,” said Director of the Military Political Studies Centre at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Alexey Podberezkin.

“I am not sure the measures to limit the rights of web users proposed by the government and the Duma will prove effective. It is impossible to control Wi-Fi through passport details,” the expert told ITAR-TASS.

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