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FSB Chief Declares the Internet a “Threat”

Source: (info), 07/07/11

· Security Services  · Moscow City and Moscow Region

Lately it has become a tradition and “the done thing” for Russia's siloviki to take any opportunity to lash out at the Internet and present it as a grave threat. Most recently, FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov declared that international terrorism has been making active use of media and the Internet.

“For some time now the majority of international terrorist organisations have been carrying out their activities independently of al-Qaida and bin Laden. Their leaders have been making active use of media and the Internet in order to raise their profile,” Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the FSB, said, opening a meeting of the heads of the FSB and other security services and law enforcement agencies.

"That is where the real war for the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens, especially young people, is going on. The Internet has turned into a universal instrument for terrorists, which they use to attract, recruit and train new members, and to plan and coordinate terrorist activities. International terrorist organisations are making use of the latest advances in technology, particularly information and communication technologies. That is why the question of how to counter the radicalization of the population and the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes has been on the agenda of our meetings for the past three years,” he added.

On the one hand, Aleksandr Bortnikov was stating the obvious. On the other, extremist sites and forums are much more of a headache for the West than for Russia and it would seem that Mr. Bortnikov should hardly be among the first people to be worried about this, stressed BBC correspondent Artem Krechetnikov.

A sense of discomfort

Over the past few years it has become a tradition and “the done thing” for Russia's siloviki to take any opportunity to lash out at the Internet and to present it as a grave threat.

Andrei Soldatov, editor of the website believes this is symptomatic of the psychology of the security services and of Soviet education.

"Russian security services find it psychologically very hard to tolerate an environment which they do not control and oversee. It makes them feel uncomfortable, awkward; they don't know how to deal with it. Their minds can't get beyond the most thick-headed solutions: banning, switching off, closing down,” Andrei Soldatov told the BBC's Russian Service.

The human rights organisation Agora reports that from January 2008 to May 2011 Russian authorities made 22 attempts to regulate the Runet. The organisation has recorded 111 cases when freedom to access the Internet was curbed or when its users were persecuted.

A series of scandals

Aleksandr Andreechkin, head of the FSB Centre for Information Security and Special Communications, claimed in April of this year that “the uncontrolled use of services such as Gmail, Hotmail and Skype can pose a significant security threat for Russia.”

Admittedly, the FSB’s Centre for Public Relations has officially distanced itself from Andreechkin's claim, and the Kremlin press office referred to it as “his personal point of view”.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin's press secretary suggested that such a point of view was “fully justified and reflected the tasks of the agency, and that the agency had presented proper arguments for its position.”

In March and April 2011 the popular Russian blog service fell victim to three cyber attacks. On Twitter, President Dmitry Medvedev called these actions “outrageous and unlawful”. The culprits have not been found.

Another major scandal broke in May after the leaking of personal data of individuals who had used Yandex’s Money service to donate funds to support the anti-corruption Internet project RosPil. RosPil's founder Aleksei Navalny claimed the data was requested from Yandex by the FSB, who subsequently passed the data on to the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi.

In its April report, Freedom House classified Russia as a “partially free country” in terms of Internet freedom.

Although the number of World Wide Web users in Russia will soon reach 30 million, it is not known how many of them are interested in politics and social issues. Many use the Internet solely to download films and music and for social networking.

President Dmitry Medvedev, himself an active blogger, has often talked of the usefulness of the Internet and spoken out against limiting freedom in cyberspace.