Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 160

Various media have again accused President Vladimir Putin and his cabinet of strengthening the powers of the state security services at the expense of basic democrat freedoms–in this case the right to privacy and freedom from state intrusion into private communication. According to several media reports, Leonid Reiman, Russia’s communications minister and a close Putin ally, signed a document last month ordering all companies and organizations involved in the communications business to install, at their own expense, equipment which would allow state security agencies to eavesdrop on users. In essence, this will mean that all telephone exchanges, cellular phone and paging companies and Internet service providers will be connected to the Federal Security Service (FSB) via a special line.

While similar documents have been drawn up in the past, and while the FSB and other state agencies have for some time been forcing ISPs to install surveillance devices (under the so-called SORM-2 program), the document Reiman signed has been registered with the Justice Ministry, giving it greater official sanction. And while the document states that federal agents must obey the existing law governing intelligence gathering, which requires that a warrant be obtained in order to conducting surveillance, the law has a number of loopholes. The special services can, for example, conduct eavesdropping without first getting a warrant if they believe a crime is being committed. Another provision, which requires the security agencies to obtain a court order within forty-eight hours after the start of any surveillance operation, can also be skirted easily: The security agents simply suspend the eavesdropping briefly and then beginning a new two-day cycle (Vremya MN, August 29). Another paper warned that “Reiman’s order openly legalizes the powers of the secret services to establish censorship” and is another sign that the “standards of a military-political dictatorship are being introduced in the country” (Novaya gazeta, August 28). Both publications said that the new provisions violate Russia’s constitution.