Russia’s crackdown on free speech spreads to Google, Twitter, Facebook

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The new rules could cost U.S. companies an extra $45 million per year.

The Russian government on Friday informed major tech companies including Google, Facebook, and Twitter of their obligation to comply with a heavily criticized censorship law, renewing the controversy over the Kremlin’s sweeping attacks on freedom of speech on the Internet.

The Moscow Times reports that Google and the other companies must register as “organizers of information distribution” with Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, known in Russia as Roskomnadzor.

Bloomberg reported that the tech companies could face additional costs of $45 million per year renting servers in Russia to comply with the government’s requirement that they host user data locally. According to Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, the companies will also have to keep records of their Russian users’ communications for six months, .

Roskomnadzor is “in no particular hurry” to regulate the companies, in the words of its second-in-command, Maxim Ksenzov. But Ksenzov is adamant that the companies must comply, telling Izvestia that Roskomnadzor will “force [them] one way or the other to obey the law.”

The media storage and registration law is separate from, but of a piece with, another law that outsider observers say will have severe chilling effects on speech and dissent. The law, which took effect at the beginning of August, also requires Russian bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with Roskomnadzor.

Failure to comply with the media storage law result in “administrative sanctions,” Ksenzov said, according to the Moscow Times. Google, Facebook, and Twitter, he added, “must make a decision about placing their data centers in Russia, and about the law on bloggers.”

While Roskomnadzor has not commented on the punishments that Google, Facebook, and Twitter might face if they refuse to comply, a total service blackout is one possibility.

Sergei Kopylov, the head of the Russian domain name registrar’s legal department, said that Roskomnadzor “has the right to blacklist the online platform — that is, to block it from access by Russian Web users.”

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Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.