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Putin Signs Contentious Counterterror Legislation

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin's (center) critics and civil-liberties activists have long accused the authorities of using counterterrorism and extremism laws to target the Kremlin's political opponents, and they say the new law threatens a dramatic escalation of this strategy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's (center) critics and civil-liberties activists have long accused the authorities of using counterterrorism and extremism laws to target the Kremlin's political opponents, and they say the new law threatens a dramatic escalation of this strategy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law contentious counterterrorism legislation that opposition activists and rights advocates have denounced as unconstitutional and a blunt tool to suppress dissent.

The law, which Putin's ruling United Russia party has championed, includes measures toughening punishment for extremism and terrorism, increases the state's surveillance capabilities, and criminalizes failure to inform the authorities about certain crimes.

It also boosts state access to private communications, requiring telecom companies to store all telephone conversations, text messages, videos, and picture messages for six months and make this data available to the authorities.

Encrypted messaging services such Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp, meanwhile, are required under the law to provide an encryption key to authorities.

The law also increases the number of crimes that 14-year-olds can be prosecuted for and restricts the activity of religious preachers.

Putin's critics and civil-liberties activists have long accused the authorities of using counterterrorism and extremism laws to target the Kremlin's political opponents, and they say the new law threatens a dramatic escalation of this strategy.

Telecom and Internet companies, meanwhile, have warned that they face a massive increase in costs in order to comply with the law that will be passed on to consumers in the form of price hikes.

Sergei Soldatenkov, CEO of the mobile provider Megafon, said in an interview published on July 7 in the Russian daily Kommersant that the new law would require the firm to spend four times its annual profit to ensure it met the data-storage requirement.

Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition lawmaker in Russia's lower house of parliament, wrote sarcastically on Twitter that Putin's enactment of the law had brought about "a wonderful new world with expensive Internet, prison for children, and global surveillance."​

The law was also denounced by arguably the world's most famous opponent of state surveillance, Edward Snowden, a former U.S. security contractor whom Russia has granted asylum and the United States wants to prosecute for leaking a trove of classified materials.

Snowden wrote on Twitter on July 7 that Putin's signing of the new law marked a "dark day for Russia." He added that that he feared "retaliation" for his criticism but that he would not let this stop him from speaking out.

Amid widespread criticism of the law -- including from the head of the Kremlin's own human rights commission -- Putin's spokesman said on July 7 that the Russian president had tasked the government to monitor "how this law is implemented" and take measures if there are "undesirable" consequences.

With reporting by AFP and TASS
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