When news broke that the United States has been spying on foreigners’ internet communications, the story made headlines around the world.

It was revealed America’s National Security Agency has access to nine of the biggest names in internet technology, and it has been using sites like Facebook and Google to monitor non-US citizens for the past six years.

The revelations provoked an angry response from governments around the world and raised profound questions about internet privacy and the law.

Now a member of the Russian parliament has suggested digital companies like Facebook should be made to use internet servers on Russian soil, so they fall under the jurisdiction of Russian privacy laws.

Pyotr Lekarev is IT Observer at The Voice of Russia:

“Sergei Zheleznyak proposed to move all servers which store personal data of Russian citizens to Russia.

“And he emphasized that sensitive governmental information and personal data of Russian citizens has to be secure and so he proposed that one possible way to do that, to guarantee security is to physically move servers handling data to Russia.”

Sergei Zheleznyak accused the US of double standards, saying the US presents itself as a bastion of democracy, but it’s been carrying out surveillance on millions of foreign citizens.

He said Russia should conduct a thorough investigation into American companies' and intelligence agencies' illegal access to the private information of Russian citizens.

Zheleznyak, who is Deputy Speaker of the Duma, also urged Russia to create more digital products of its own, so organisations like the NSA wouldn’t be able to use foreign internet companies as an information portal:

“Basically what he suggested is to create our own Google, Microsoft and all that. Create Russian services which would be of interest to Russian users, so they would use Russian services which would be secure.”

That might not be too far-fetched. There is already a range of Russian social media websites that rival global platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Zheleznyak said:

“VK is one of the largest Russian social networks. I think at this point in time it has 110 million users.

“I think it’s several magnitudes less than that for Facebook – I mean among Russian users.

“Russians mostly use VK or V Kontacte, as it’s known here and Odnoklassniki, translated as “Classmates” and Facebook.

“Facebook is actually the least popular social network here.”

Pyotr Lekarev said the proposals made by Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak were just suggestions – and there is no official moves to make the proposals into law.

But Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov is concerned by what he heard:

“I don’t think actually he is really genuinely in protecting privacy for Russian users.

“He’s mostly thinking about how to protect interests of the Russian state.”

He said there is a risk the Russian secret service might also look to engage in internet monitoring like that carried out by the NSA, if internet servers were moved to Russia.

Here in Britain, the Government Communications Headquarters has been accused of using the intelligence obtained through the Prism programme.

The Russian proposals bring to light a highly complicated issue: no one has yet determined just how global internet platforms can be forced to obey the law or exactly whose laws they should be obeying.

Pyotr Lekarev said:

“A user is in Russia, the server is in America, the company that operates is in America, so what sort of laws apply?

“How to people actually regulate these things? It’s becoming very complicated these days.”

Sergei Zheleznyak’s call for Russia to improve its digital sovereignty is likely to be echoed around the world.

 

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