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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: January 19, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Civic Chamber Proposes Banning Workers from Personal Internet Use At Work; Activists Expect Crackdown
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The Civic Chamber, a body formed by President Vladimir Putin in 2004 to make legislative proposals and monitor the government, has proposed that employers should ban employees from using the Internet for personal purposes during work, Novaya Gazeta reports.

Vladimir Slepak, the chairman of the Civic Chamber's commission on social policy, labor relations and citizens' quality of life, says that legislative actions should be taken to punish workers for personal Internet use at work. His effort is not just part of the government's overall campaign to restrict the Internet, but is about getting more efficiency out of workers in the economic crisis (translation by The Interpreter):

"The country today is in a crisis; therefore I propose introducing the relevant amendments into the Labor Code, and on the basis of a court decision, restricting the use of computers and gadgets for personal reasons during work time."
It would not be bad to add to that smoking tobacco and drinking tea. Once again I emphasize that today, to overcome the crisis, it's necessary to mobilize all resources and enterprises, but this must occur within the framework of the law.

In making his proposal, Slepak referred to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)  in Barbulescu vs. Romania, in which the Court ruled that a Romanian citizen who complained to the ECHR after he was fired for using his work email for personal correspondence. He said his employer's admission that they had monitored his Yahoo Messenger account, created at their request for customer service, was a violation of the privacy of his correspondence. The Court dismissed his complaint, saying his employer had provided him with due notification, and that it was not unreasonable for an employer to monitor employees' performance to ensure jobs were done. 

Slepak's invocation of the ECHR ruling was selective, given the recent decision of Russia no longer to recognize international law and President Vladimir Putin's authorization to ignore international court decisions if they did not comply with Russian law. The ECHR decision also did not address the larger issue of whether the government could monitor employees' use of personal Internet accounts at work but addressed the smaller issue of due notification and monitoring performance on an account created at the employer's behest.

The Civic Chamber's call for even more surveillance of Russians is part of an overall trend of Internet control in the last year. has recently outlined five major threats to Internet freedom that have emerged in the last year:

1. Blocking of torrents sites, in connection with new laws on copyright protection;

2. Inspections of Facebook and Google regarding compliance with the law on protection of personal data, passed last September, which requires Internet service provides to place servers with Russian customer data on Russian soil. Samsung, Apple, Lenovo, Uber, Booking and eBay have all complied wit the law, say officials, which leaves Facebook and Google which have a presence in Russian already, as well as Twitter.

3.Limiting of competition to the "big four" of Russian mobile companies, MTS, MegaFon, VympelKom and Tele2.

4. Further regulation of messaging systems, although recently presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no restrictions were planned, and Russia decided not to restrict Telegram, a program used by the Paris terrorists, even after an MP called for its ban.
5. Removal of information from search engines under the new Russian law on the "right to be forgotten."

Opposition Leonid Volkov blogged about these new developments and proposed creating an "Internet Defense Society," saying that this year, a "wide-scale, unprecedented offensive on the Internet in Russia" could be expected.

As Russian Internet specialist Andrei Soldatov, author of The Red Web, has written for Moscow Times, the Russian government is increasing pressure on both companies and citizens to further restrict the Internet, and soon the issue of the order to place servers on Russian soil will have to come to a head.

The government blocked, the largest Russian-language torrents site, forcing more people to turn to Tor, a software program to overcome Internet blocks and provide anonymous communicatoins. The Interior Ministry at first offered a bounty to crack Tor (which has had other problems with its vulnerability) but then dropped the effort and its use increased in Russia.

A petition calling on global platforms not to hand over their data to Russia has gathered more than 40,000 signatures and 7,000 users organized by Roskomsvoboda, the organization whose name, "Russian Committee for Freedom" is a spoof on the state censor's name, Roskomnadzor (Russian Committee for Oversight), is filing a lawsuit over the blocking of Rutracker.

Recently, Putin appointed an Internet advisor, German Klimenko, founder of the site LiveInternet and president of the Association for the Development of Electronic Commerce who has been closely scrutinized by Internet freedom advocates. 

Vedomosti reported Klimenko he himself had been owner of, a torrents site, but had passed the ownership to his son shortly before his appointment

But TASS reported today that Klimenko denied the reports, saying that the owner of Tornado was a company called ECO RS, and he was "not an owner in the legal sense" of this company" and that furthermore, the site did not violate any laws. "If rights-holders write us, we remove [content]," he added, indicating that he was not denying some connection to this site.

Klimenko was also on the record as saying that under conditions of the economic crisis, defense of copyright should not be a priority and "people should not be terrorized excessively on these issues".

It's not clear whether his appointment signals the government's admission of defeat in their lukewarm war against piracy, or rather an effort at co-opting the lucrative business.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick