Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill that obliges foreign IT companies to set up local units or face penalties including a possible ban as Moscow continues to try and tighten its control over the flow of information on the Internet.
The bill, signed by Putin on July 1 and placed on the official website for legal information, requires 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 in the Russian Federation would be affected by the law. In addition, firms that run advertising targeting Russian citizens, process personal data of users based in Russia, or receive financial support from Russian citizens or companies will have to establish branches in Russia as of January 1, 2022.
In addition, the law makes it mandatory for such entities to register on the website of Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, for mutual communication.
The law comes as the Internet rapidly gains clout in Russia, offering a vehicle to challenge the Kremlin narrative and prompting Putin to turn his 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, platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok played an outsize role in promoting a series of massive anti-government rallies in Moscow and elsewhere and ushered in an intensified push to fine-tune what appears online in Russia.