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On the road to isolationism: what will happen to Gmail and Skype in Russia?

23 April 2014

Source: (info)
Will foreign internet services be blocked if they do not store data [for Russian security services – HRO] about internet users on the territory of Russia?

Foreign providers of e-mail and instant messaging services will be bound, along with Russian companies, to store data about their users for six months on Russian territory. As writes, this follows from the text of the ‘anti-terrorist packet’ of laws that State Duma deputies passed in a third reading on 22 April 2014.

Experts believe that if the foreign companies refuse to comply with the new law, access to their services in Russia may be blocked. Amendments to the law ‘On Information Technologies and the Protection of Information’ is one of a series of legislative proposals that is part of a ‘anti-terrorist packet’ of bills adopted by the State Duma in third reading. According to these amendments, companies carrying out the transmission of electronic communications among internet users, must store data relating to all communications sent for a six month period.

Moreover, the information must be stored on the territory of Russia, which means that the servers storing the data relating to communications sent by internet users must be located on Russian territory.

However, these requirements amendments would not apply to licensed communications operators, including internet providers, nor to government controlled information systems.

This means that internet service companies providing e-mail, instant messaging, IP-telephony and social networks will be obliged to store data.

The head of the department of strategic planning of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, Irina Levova, confirmed to that the requirements of the law apply to precisely this category of companies, and it is these companies that will be the chief focus of its application.

The text of the law will not provide for exceptions for internet services depending on their ownership of whether they are Russian or foreign.

Consequently, Google (which owns Gmail and YouTube), Facebook or Microsoft (the owner of Skype) will under the law be obliged to ensure the storage of users’ correspondence on servers located in Russia just as Yandex,, Rambler or Vkontakte will have to

However, Russian state bodies have no legal instruments to enforce compliance with Russian legislation on the part of foreign internet service providers. The companies providing these services are registered abroad and have no economic activity in Russia. Their technological infrastructure is also located outside the borders of the Russian Federation.

Konstantin Trapaidze, an expert in corporate law and chair of the Moscow law firm Your Trusted Lawyer, believes that this is the most important circumstance that will influence enforcement of the new ‘anti-terrorism’ law.

“Foreign companies providing internet-based services to the public are outside Russian jurisdiction. Therefore Russian state bodies have no legal instruments to influence them,” Trapaidze told

According to Trapaidze, if Google or Microsoft refuse to set up servers in Russia to store users’ data and, as the law requires, provide security services with access, no one can force them to do so or punish them for failing to comply with Russian law.

On the other hand, within Russia the law must be complied with by all without exception. The only means to achieve this in relation to foreign internet companies is to block access to their services on Russian territory. There is no other means to enforce compliance with the law against those who do not voluntarily agree to do so.

At the same time, the expert is convinced that most likely there will be no decision to forcibly cut off access to Gmail, Skype, WhatsApp and other foreign internet services, since this would be perceived as a move towards unabashed isolationism on the part of Russia.

But in that situation the new ‘anti-terrorist’ law, like some others of the same kind before it, will only work in a limited fashion because while some companies – the Russian ones – will comply with it, others – those based outside Russia – will not. 

Illustration by Mikhail Zlatkovsky. Radio Svoboda 

‘It turns out that the law won’t work in relation to some of the players in one and the same market. This will become further evidence that the deputies of the State Duma have not been sufficiently careful in developing this piece of legislation which they put forward and voted for,’ the lawyer said.

Representatives of the largest internet companies on the Russian market are reluctant to comment on what the future holds for them.

Representatives of Google, Facebook and Microsoft did not respond to questions addressed to them by about what actions they might take following the adoption of the ‘anti-terrorist’ law.

At the same time, some of the largest Russian companies have already commented on the new law and its likely consequences.

Rambler&Co said that they would comply with the requirements of the law and any secondary legislation after they have been confirmed by parliament and the government of Russia.

In answer to the question to what extent the company is ready to comply with the law in storing users’ data, the director of security at Rambler&Co Aleksandr Rylik said: ‘At present we gather only the information about the actions of users that are needed for the functioning of our software system. To estimate our readiness to comply with the law, it would be necessary that the law (or secondary legislation that will probably be developed by the government) made more specific from a technical point of view the list of data that it will be necessary to collect.’

So far as the time it would take to prepare and carry out all the measures demanded by the law, Ryklin said that it would depend on the categories of stored data and the manner in which they would be handed over, since this would affect the power of the technologies needed for the task.

The press service of Yandex said: ‘In our view, the adoption of this law would be one further step towards strengthening of state control over the internet in Russia, and this would have a negative impact on the development of the industry

‘It is important to understand that the regulation foreseen in the bill bould be applied not only to the hosting of blogs and social networking sites, but also practically to any services in the internet, including electronic mail, apps for mobile phones and so on.’

Yandex believes that the demand that internet services store data concerning all exchanges between all internet users for a six month period contradicts Russia’s international obligations flowing from the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Moreover, Yandex pointed out that at the beginning of April 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that a directive of the European Commission that for several years had required that all communications of communications networks )internet and telephone) be stored was void.

The Court considered that the directive contradicted Convention Articles on the right to private and family life and the protection of personal data. According to the Court, gathering data of this kind about a citizen is permissible only when the individual in question is suspected of having committed a crime.