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Russian Media Regulator Seeks Personal Data As Moscow Eyes More Control Over Internet

A protester holds up a sign saying "Thanks, [Roskomnadzor]! Now I know what VPN, Tor, proxy is" during a rally for Internetf freedom in Moscow in 2018.
A protester holds up a sign saying "Thanks, [Roskomnadzor]! Now I know what VPN, Tor, proxy is" during a rally for Internetf freedom in Moscow in 2018.

Amid ongoing attempts to impose more control over the Internet, Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has proposed users of social-media networks and messenger applications hand over passport data and other personal information for verification.

Roskomnadzor's proposal regarding the change was submitted for public discussion on its website on March 23.

It comes as the Russian government battles U.S. social media over what Moscow says is their failure to follow local regulations.

Roskomnadzor last week announced a slowing down, or throttling, of Twitter's speed across the country for its "failure" to remove what it said was banned content that encouraged suicide among children and information about drugs and child pornography.

The new proposal was drawn up following amendments to personal-data legislation requiring companies from July to receive consent from users to handle some kinds of data.

Under the new proposal, users would be able to submit their consent directly to the company or through Roskomnadzor's unified information system, whichever the user chooses.

During that process, users will be requested to reveal their full names, permanent residence addresses, personal telephone numbers, and electronic addresses.

The data will be verified through the Gosuslugi online state registry, which will be linked with Roskomnadzor.

One of the authors of Russia's new law on personal data, lawmaker Anton Gorelkin of the ruling United Russia party, told the daily Kommersant on March 25 that Roskomnadzor's initiative targeted mainly social networks and instant messengers.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Tretyak, the leader of Roskomsvoboda, an NGO that supports open, self-regulated networks and the protection of the digital rights of Internet users, expressed concerns over the move.

"Neither Roskomnadzor, nor social networks need that amount of data unless they plan to pass them over to law enforcement structures or monetize them via advertisement," Tretyak said, adding that law enforcement might easily misuse the data.

The new proposal also coincides with efforts to tighten control of social media and a clampdown on platforms that have been used to organize protests in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

Last month, a law came into force that says social networks must themselves find and delete content banned by Russian law. If a social network is unable to determine if content contains banned materials, it must send that content to Roskomnadzor for an evaluation.

The agency has said that, as of March 10, Twitter had 3,168 posts with banned content on its site, including more than 2,500 posts encouraging suicide among minors. It also referred to content on illegal drugs and pornography.

With reporting by Kommersant
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