#5 - JRL 2009-166 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
September 7, 2009
Snooping Decree Declared Illegal
By Natalya Krainova

Prosecutors on Friday ordered the Communications and Press Ministry to reverse as unconstitutional a recent decree allowing law enforcement agencies to open private mail without a court order.

The ministry, however, insisted that the decree, which has sparked outrage from human rights activists, is in line with the law and refused to amend it pending a ruling by the Supreme Court.

The May 19 decree, which came into force on July 21, says the postal service must provide law enforcement officials with information about senders and addressees and, if needed, letters and packages for examination.

It does not mention anything about the need for a court order.

The Constitution guarantees “privacy of correspondence” in Article 23, and mail previously could only be examined with a court order.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has reviewed the decree at the request of ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and the Public Chamber and found that it “contradicts the Constitution,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

Prosecutors ordered the ministry to “bring the decree in line with federal law,” the statement said.

The Communications and Press Ministry “will not take any action” before a hearing scheduled for Thursday at the Supreme Court, ministry spokeswoman Yelena Lakshina told The Moscow Times.

Lakshina said the court would consider a request from a “private individual” about whether the decree violated federal law.

The Communications and Press Ministry said in an e-mailed statement that it supported the idea that law enforcement officials needed a court order to open private mail and get personal information about the sender.

The ministry statement added, however, that “there is no need to mention the need for a court order in the decree.”

The Post of Russia said in an e-mailed statement that it could not comment on the decree because the issue was “out of the scope” of the agency.

Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and a Public Chamber member, said the decree was “extremely dangerous” because of the risk that law enforcement officials would look through the correspondence of journalists, politicians, human rights activists and other perceived opponents of the government.

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