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Russian Duma Gives Final Nod To Bill Compelling IT Giants To Establish Local Branches

People at an opposition rally in Moscow in March 2019 rally against the bill about the sovereign RuNet and censorship on the Internet.

The Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved in the third and final reading a bill that would require foreign information technology (IT) companies to set up local units or face penalties including a possible ban, as Moscow continues to tighten its control over the flow of information on the Internet.

The bill, approved by lawmakers on June 17, would require foreign IT companies with a daily audience of at least 500,000 people to set up full-fledged branches in Russia that would be "responsible for violations of Russian legislation."

All IT companies, owners of websites, information systems, and programs that distribute content in Russian or languages of the ethnic groups of the Russian Federation, targeting Russian citizens with ads, process personal data of users based in Russia, or receive financial support from Russian citizens or companies will have to establish branches in Russia.

In addition, under the new regulation, it will be mandatory for such entities to register on the website of Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, for mutual communication.

The bill must now be approved by the upper chamber of the parliament, the Federation Council, before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

The bill comes as the Internet rapidly gains clout in Russia, offering a vehicle to challenge the official narrative and prompting the Kremlin to turn its sights on social-media companies.

In 2019, Russia passed a "sovereign Internet" law that gives officials wide-ranging powers to restrict online traffic, up to the point of isolating the country from cross-border Internet connections during national emergencies.

Moscow has repeatedly warned that it is ready to use the "sovereign Internet" law if unrest were to reach a serious scale.

In January and early February, a series of massive anti-government rallies actively promoted on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, the Chinese video app that played an outsize role in hosting content by jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, ushered in an intensified push to control what appears online in Russia.

With reporting by Interfax and TASS