BY: GAYATRI SRIRAM, CONTRIBUTOR
In response to the Paris shootings and the bombing of Egyptian jet liner A-231, President Vladimir Putin’s anti-terrorism plans for Russia have indeed become a reality. Putin has signed controversial amendments into Russia law, attempting to combat the spread of terrorism on the home front. But at what cost?
The Yarovaya Law holds people accountable for a multitude of terror-related activities. Punishments include up to ten years in prison for engaging in international terrorism, up to fifteen years for financing terrorist organizations, up to ten years for attracting people to a terrorist group, and fines between three hundred thousand to one million rubles for public calls to terrorism. However, the most controversial aspect of the bill requires communication providers to store users’ data (calls, messages, videos, etc.) for up to three years. Further, they are legally mandated to give government security services access to this data.
Many deem the new law an infringement on natural rights, for the law’s massive limitation on civil rights raises major privacy concerns. Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, describes strong the reaction to the law and claims that it would not achieve its intended goal of combating terrorism, and noted the amendments as a ‘fundamental weakening of civil rights’, insisting on immediate revisions.
While numerous criticisms are made by different groups of people, everyone wants to hear what former NSA worker, Edward Snowden, has to say. As a former US intelligence contractor living in exile in Russia, whether or not Snowden will speak against the Yarovaya law and face potential punishment versus whether he will stay silent is sparking curiosity across the globe. And it seems that he has made his choice: recently, his tweet ‘Putin has signed a repressive new law that violates not only human rights, but common sense. Dark day for #Russia’ makes his stance quite clear. With the possibility of facing retaliation from the Russian government, Snowden’s future probably won’t be much brighter than Yarovaya law.
Further criticism has been made by trade association members, communication providers, the media, and the public. Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov characterizes the situation, describing how the government has unleashed a ‘de facto iron curtain’.
The effects of Putin’s amendments on Russia’s economy include placing an enormous financial constraint on some of Russia’s largest businesses. Sergei Soldatenkov, CEO of Megafon Mobile, describes how the storage of data could cost telecommunication companies two hundred billion rubles, four times their yearly profit. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, assures companies that Putin ‘tasked the government to take measures if there are undesirable consequences’. Is his word really enough to hold up the economic problems that will pursue? Probably not. Telecommunication companies are already feeling the strain, and some are beginning to take severe action. AntiMedia describes a VPN service, Private Internet Access (PIA), that is leaving the Russian market due to the amendments and predicts that more companies are likely to follow.
A potential solution described by Soldatenkov entails having the government tax telecommunication companies by an additional one percent to build a data center with the extra money. But, considering Putin’s history of taking action under his own advisement, it’s extremely unlikely this will occur.
Effect on Putin’s Popularity
Surprisingly, the aftermath of signing a bill that will entail this much disaster has not significantly affected Putin’s popularity. A recent poll published by independent group Levada shows that seventy-three percent of people trust Putin. While this is a drop from eighty-three percent the previous year, his popularity is still considerably high, showing that he continues to be seen as a promising figure by the majority of Russians.