Bad news Russian internet users! The Russian Government recently passed a new antiterrorism law which requires internet service providers and telecom companies to record internet traffic and metadata of their users for up to three years.
The news broke on July 7th 2016 when the Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this new data retention law. The law is dubbed many names such as Big Brother Law but the most popular of them all is ‘Yarovaya Law’, named after its chief co-author Irina Yarovaya. She is a key Russian political figure and the leading member of the ‘United Russia’ party.
Yarovaya Law puts forth disturbing provisions as it mandates local ISPs and telecommunication companies to record and store communication information, internet traffic, and metadata of Russian citizens. The evidence shows that the legislation was hastily pushed through the parliament without sufficient debate or scrutiny as it violates privacy rights, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
— Federico Lucchesi (@Lucchefede) June 27, 2016
What Happens To Your Online Privacy?
According to the Russian Government, the law was pushed through to combat the on-going terrorism in the country. However, the detractors of the law see this as having huge implications on an individual’s privacy and security. So what information will be stored by your ISP and telecom company?
Storage of Text Messages, Phone Calls & More
The Data Retention Law requires companies such as MTS, Beeline, and MegaFon to keep records of all forms of communications, including emails, text messages, phone calls, images, and videos for up to six month. In addition to this, they are also required to store metadata such as time, location, messages, and name of the sender and receiver for up to three years.
Records of Internet Traffic
The same rules also apply to all businesses that provide internet services or enable users to distribute information over the internet. They have to keep records of communications made over the internet while the State will decide which Web resources qualify for ‘information distributing’ services. However, ISPs and other internet companies have to record metadata of users for one year, unlike telecom providers that have to store the information for three years.
Data Decoding Provisions
If that’s not enough, such businesses are required to decode any information deemed necessary by the Russian Security Services (FSB) and hand over the metadata. This has further implications as internet traffic is encoded in some form or another. Decoding the data would mean that firms would have to hand over the encryption keys to law enforcing agencies.
Other Restrictions & Implications
The mandatory data retention law in Russia also puts severe restrictions over freedom of expression and conscience. Anyone found expressing incitement about terrorism or publishing posts approving of terrorism on social media can be sentenced to seven years in prison. Similarly, if an individual is found inducing people to join mass unrest, then they will also sentenced to prison for three to eight years. And, if anyone fails to report a crime can also be sentenced to prison (up to one year).
If any company fails to comply with this law will be fined 1 million rubles (which is roughly USD $15,700). So if we weren’t clear enough already, the new data retention law (Yarovaya Law) violates your privacy and puts your online security at great risk.
How To Preserve Your Privacy Against Yarovaya Law?
You can protect your online privacy and security against the mandatory data retention law through a VPN. By using a VPN, your true location is masked and you become anonymous over the internet. A VPN also encrypts your internet traffic and tunnels it through secure protocols; not allowing your ISP to monitor or record your internet activities.
That said, selecting a VPN can be tricky. To help you out, you should select one that is not based in Russia and has a no-log policy. Here are some VPN services you can choose from:
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Cost of Data Retention Law for Russian Companies
There is a significant cost involved in implementing the provisions proposed by the new Russian data retention law. Telecom firms and internet providers have all condemned this new legislation. A representative from MegaFon (second largest mobile operator in Russia) reported that it would cost the company around 230 billion rubles ($3.5+ million). To put things into perspective, MegaFon made 50 billion rubles in net profit last year.
It’s not just the businesses that are cribbing at implementing Yarovaya Law. Security expert, former US intelligence agency worker, and an NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden also dissuaded the new regulations.
Signing the #BigBrother law must be condemned. Beyond political and constitution consequences, it is also a $33b+ tax on Russia’s internet.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 7, 2016
PIA Withdraws Its Services From Russia
The popular VPN brand, Private Internet Access (PIA) is the first to react to Yarovaya Law. The regulations have forced the tech company to make swift decision and pull it services out of Russia. PIA announced that in the wake of this new law, some of its servers have been seized by the Russian Authorities and it has discontinued its Russian Gateways.
However, the VPN provider has assured its users that no data has been compromised as it does not keep any logs. Additionally, it has recommend all subscribers to update their desktop clients, Android apps, and download new OpenVPN configuration files. Since privacy and security is of top concern to PIA, it has pulled its services out of Russia and will no longer be doing business in Russia.
For all PIA users in Russia, you don’t need to panic as there are many alternatives still available. The VPN providers that we mentioned earlier in our list are still operating within Russia and do not keep any logs of users activities.
Russia pursuit to control the internet have been stepped up with this new data retention law. Whether you want to call it Yarovaya Law or Big Brother Law, or whatever you want, this legislation provides little to no protection for one’s privacy.
Journalists and activists are in more danger than ever with the provisions provided by the data retention law. It gives law enforcement agencies unprecedented power and authority to track user’s movements, attain information about their communications, and online activities.
Critics of the new amendment say that the law will not have an effect on countering terrorism but instead, it violates user’s privacy and internet security. One way of protecting your privacy is by using a Russian VPN. The one’s we have listed above offer military grade encryption levels, are based outside Russia, have a no-log policy, and offer unbeatable performance.