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III. Privacy issues

Legislative and policy responses to terrorism

Anti-terrorist campaigns that the United States government promoted worldwide after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 have influenced Russian legislation. On December 20, 2000, the State Duma approved amendments to federal laws on Terrorism and on Mass Media in first reading. Although these amendments did not specifically concern online privacy, they seriously limited distribution of "extremist materials" via the Internet (even though "extremism" and "extremist materials" were not defined in Russian law at the time). On April 30, 2002, the President announced a bill on Counteraction to Extremist Activities. The bill contained broad definitions of "extremist activities" and, some critics argued, enabled a wide range of public protest actions to be viewed as extremism. The first draft contained an article relevant to the Internet: ISPs were forced to censor materials on their servers and remove or block "extremist sites." This article was later replaced with the indistinct reference to other legislation, and the controversial procedure of Internet monitoring and censorship was dropped.1

After the terrorist attack in Moscow of October 2002,2 the State Duma quickly adopted several amendments to the laws on Mass Media and Terrorism, banning any distribution of information that could impede anti-terrorist actions.3 In December 2004, a new concept of the "state of a terrorist emergency" was introduced in the State Duma as one counter-terrorism measure. The new regime of a "state of a terrorist emergency" could seriously limit civil rights in case Russian law enforcement bodies receive information about a terrorist act prepared but failed to check this information. 4 In the beginning of 2006, after lengthy discussions, the parliament removed the new proposal from the counterterrorism bill. However, according to the new counterterrorism law enacted in 2006, Russian secret services can easily wiretap and intercept communications during their counter terrorist operations.5

According to Article 53 of the Federal Law on Communications, the data about telecommunications users are confidential and are protected by Russian laws.

The Fifth Periodical Report of the Russian Federation on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 2002 provides that in the period of four years 42 persons were convicted for violations of privacy, 61 for the violation of the secrecy of communications. According to the report, the number of persons convicted for breaching the inviolability of the home for the same period is much higher (5,476 persons). This apparently shows the lack of the enforcement required for the investigation of crimes related to the breach of privacy, as well as the lack of governmental oversight and independent institutions that could monitor how privacy laws are implemented. Before 2007, law enforcement structures used to refer to the lack of legal grounds and, in particular, to the lack of clear legal procedures about how to collect, process, store, transfer and disclose personal data. The new Law on Personal Data (which came into effect in January 2007) gives more grounding for prosecution of violators of privacy but it has not been implemented in legal proceedings yet.6

National ID

Russia has a national ID system. Each person older than 14 years of age must have a personal document (internal passport) that can be obtained at a local department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This passport is used as the main ID document and is necessary for many activities, including the purchase of train and plane tickets. Each passport bears a residency permit stamp. Russian courts (including the Supreme Court in 1998) have asserted that this permission regime is unconstitutional. Moscow authorities insist that it is only a notification procedure. However, in some situations getting registered can be a painful and complicated process. Without registration it is difficult get a well-paid job, get full public medical aid, children cannot attend public schools, etc. Moscow police used to stop people at streets, check their passports and fine those who have no registration stamp in it.7

In recent years, officials, both at federal and Moscow levels, announced several times that a new system of electronic IDs would be introduced in the near future. According to these statements, the new system would supplement, and later replace, internal passports.8 For the moment, Russian citizens have limited ability to get so-called "foreign" biometrics passports (that are necessary for travel outside the country) on a voluntary basis.