When Worlds Collide: Russia, the Internet, and Nothing to Hide (or, Интернет в России)

Danielle Citron and Daniel Solove — whose guest I am here at CO — always offer great insights into the brave new world of cyber law.  I find their work fascinating and worth a careful read.  But readers tend to bring a bit of themselves to whatever they read, and I’m no exception.  That part of my scholarship that focuses on Russian law sometimes makes it hard for me to avoid thinking about the original model for Big Brother that George Orwell had in mind when I read about the latest anxieties about the state’s relationship to cyberspace.

So today I was not entirely surprised to learn that the recent mass protests in Russia have a cyber-angle to them beyond the emphasis in news reports on how protesters have used Facebook and flash mobs.  Two angles, actually, that readers might miss and that I thought worth sharing.  The protests, as many know, were catalyzed by elections to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, which were held Sunday, December 4. 

The first one was reported yesterday by Mark Franchetti in Moscow for the The Sunday Times (UK):

The dirtiest election in the country’s post-Soviet era began with a cyber attack, unprecedented both in its scale and its efficacy, on several websites critical of the Kremlin.

It was launched 90 minutes before polling stations opened and ended 90 minutes after they closed.  Half a dozen sites were shut down completely.

According to security experts employed by one of those affected, the onslaught came from 200,000 hacked computers across the world.  Unbeknown to their users, they requested simultaneous access to the sites, which crashed under the weight of demand.

“This was a concerted, well-organized attack which was very expensive to sustain.  It’s not some lone hacker causing trouble — rather something far more sinister, almost certainly linked to the security services,”  said one web security exeprt.

United Russia, the country’s largest party, led by Putin, denied any involvement but suspicion fell on the state — especially the FSB, the former KGB.  The only common link between the targeted sites was that all had posted an interactive map detailing alleged pre-election violations reported by ordinary citizens.

The map, which listed 6,000 alleged violations, was created by Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, whose site was among those disabled.

The offices of Golos, which is funded partly by the United States and European Union, waere raided by prosecutors in the run-up to the polling.  The Kremlin claimed that the West was meddling and Putin, who served in the KGB for 16 years, compared Russian recipients of foreign money to Judas.

The second report comes from ITAR-TASS, a Russian state-owned news service.  A report on its wire service suggested that someone (and probably a lot more than one)  in the Russian Interior Ministry really ought to read some of Solove’s and Citron’s work.  According to ITAR-TASS:

Alexei Moshkov, head of the bureau of special technical activities under the Interior Ministry, suggested on Thursday the taking of measures against anonymity in the Internet.  In his opinion, “today social networks not only have some advantages, but also create a potential threat to the fundamentals of society.”  Some mass media organs linked his proposal with the growth of protest activity of Russians after the parliamentary elections, in which the Internet is playing an important role.

Major General Moshkov believes that stability of the fundamentals of society may be ensured by banning the publication of anonymous reports, The Novye Izvestia [a Moscow newspaper — ed.] writes.  “One may get registered under his real name, may report his address and after that communicate with others.  An honest and law-abiding person does not have to hide.  Let me remind you that there is no censorship in the Internet.  The “K” Department will not search for anybody or arrest anybody for criticism,” he stated point-blank.

Not everybody in Russia seems to agree with the general.  His boss, for example, Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Minister of the Interior.  Another ITAR-TASS post (which I’ve only been able to find in Russian) states:

 Head of the MVD [the Interior Ministry — ed.] Rashid Nurgaliyev expressed his negative attitude toward required registration of the names and surnames of Internet users.  He declared this in answering a question of news agency  journalists concerning “face-control” on the network.

“This is stupidity and no one is planning to introduce this,” said Nurgaliyev.

Well, maybe there’s a reader out there after all!

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2 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    The dirtiest election in the country’s post-Soviet era

    I’d be interested to hear if you think this is accurate, Jeffry- my impression is that it wasn’t that much dirtier, if any, than several other recent ones- the Moscow Times several years ago provided pretty persuasive evidence that Putin would have been forced into a run-off in his very first election if not for serious fraud (and was nearly shut down over it, and was more tame after that), and there was, I recall, pretty significant evidence that both Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces were cheated out of Duma representation (never to get it back) several years back. As bad as this election was, it doesn’t seem obviously worse than other recent ones to me. (A short attention span by journalists seems more likely) but I’d be curious to hear what you think.

    (On the “cyber” front, it’s also interesting that a blogger is one of the most important opposition figures.)

  2. Monica Eppinger says:

    For Russian cyberspace/i.p. aficionados, one hand of the state takes away while the other gives.

    As some parts of the state apparatus were busy this week restricting internet access to electoral opponents, Pres. Medvedev signed into law implementation measures for getting a patent court up and running. http://rapsinews.com/legislation_news/20111208/257962116.htm.