#3 - JRL 2009-165 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
September 4, 2009
Security Services Step Up Snooping
By Natalya Krainova

The secret services are increasingly asking courts for permission to search private premises, eavesdrop on telephone calls and read private mail, according to new statistics from the Supreme Court.

The heightened interest might stem from authorities’ fear about possible public unrest connected to the economic crisis, human rights activists said Thursday.

In the first half of this year, the secret services filed nearly 77,200 requests for search warrants, more than 66,000 requests to tap phones and nearly 7,800 requests to read mail, according to statistics posted recently on the web site of the Supreme Court’s judicial department.

This compares with 71,600 requests for search warrants, 49,500 wiretapping requests and 7,300 requests to open mail in the same period last year.

As the requests have grown, so have the number of court rejections. In the first half of 2009, courts rejected 2,300 search warrants, compared with 1,900 last year, and 1,500 wiretapping requests, compared with 1,200 last year, the web site said. But courts denied only 150 requests to open mail, compared with 160 last year.

The percentage of rejected requests roughly corresponds to last year’s amount, with courts, for example, rejecting 3 percent of requests for search warrants this year compared with 2.7 percent last year.

“I suppose that this is because of the crisis. The authorities are worrying about stability in society,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Lev Ponomorayov, of For Human Rights, said the trend showed that law enforcement agencies “have stepped up the fight against dissent.”

Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow bureau, said the problem of the authorities’ invading citizens’ privacy remained more serious in Russia than in other European countries.

The constitution does not allow anyone to eavesdrop on another person’s phone calls, read their letters or enter their apartment without their consent, except with a court order.

In the United States, the Patriot Act, adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, gave law enforcement agencies broad powers to wiretap phone conversations, read private mail and search private premises without the consent of the owners.

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