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Russian Public Figures Oppose Ban On Skype, Gmail, Hotmail

Dmitri Medvedev Carrying LaptopThere has been widespread reaction - largely negative - from Russian public figures to reports that the Russian authorities want to ban internet services such as Skype, Gmail and Hotmail.

The Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) announced on 8 April that it is concerned at the use of encryption tools on public communication networks. Head of the FSB's centre for information protection and special communication Aleksandr Andreyechkin said that such services pose a threat to Russia's national security.

Rights campaigners

"It will not be a transformation into North Korea yet but a resolute step on this path," one of the leaders of the Memorial human rights centre Yan Rachinskiy told corporate-owned Interfax news agency on 8 April.

"It is an old illness, inherited from the Soviet authorities - a secrecy complex and an attempt to resolve a problem by means of total bans," he said, adding that it is completely clear that "a ban on Skype or Gmail will not hinder real wrongdoers in any way".

Head of the Russian president's human rights council Mikhail Fedotov opposes the initiative to ban Skype, Gmail and Hotmail, Interfax reported on the same day.

"I do not see any legal foundations for such a ban. If you are unable to control, then learn how. Otherwise, in this way it is possible to result in a ban on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet altogether," Fedotov said.

"Another matter is that these services may well be subject to supervision in accordance with the law. It is not intrusion into private life because supervision is being carried out with the aim of protecting public interests within the framework of the Constitution," Fedotov said.


For his part, deputy head of the State Duma's Security Committee Gennadiy Gudkov told Gazprom-owned, editorially independent Russian news agency Ekho Moskvy that it is necessary not to ban Skype but to observe both state interests and those of ordinary citizens.

"Information concerning international drug rings, terrorist groups, military criminals and illegal arms dealing can be passed on via Skype. Probably this is the subject of general concern for special services of all countries, not only Russia. But a ban on Skype would be very painful for many tens of thousands of citizens who use it for communicating. Therefore, it seems to me that it is necessary not to take the path of banning it but to think how to observe state interests and the interests of ordinary citizens who are not spies or drug dealers," he said.

Head of the public council under the general council of One Russia Aleksey Chesnakov told Interfax that it is necessary to find a balance between the interests of ensuring security and citizens' right to free communication.

"It is possible that restrictions on the use of free internet services are needed for state organizations with the aim of protecting information but such restrictions are not necessary for citizens," he said.


Well-known blogger Anton Nosik told Ekho Moskvy on the same day that he is sure that Skype will not be banned.

"I think that all of this is perpetual bargaining between the FSB and Communications Ministry. They submit some crazy proposals. It is clear that they will not be adopted; they are not submitted for this. They are submitted so that the Communications Ministry can reject this and opt for some other concessions. Concerning the fact that they will ban Skype - I absolutely do not believe this," he said.

President of the Effective Policy Foundation Gleb Pavlovskiy told Interfax that the special services have spoken about the threat to national security posed by these services because they are irritated by difficulties in intercepting information which goes through these services.

"As far as I understand, our special services are annoyed that these services are extremely difficult for interception and listening in. This is the departmental approach to the concept of 'security'," Pavlovskiy said, adding that the services are safe.

"Not a single incident is known of when the use of Skype would create a real threat to national security. People call each other through Skype. Of course it is not spies who do this but people who simply want to save money," Pavlovskiy said.

Youth activists

The coordinator of the Oborona (Defence) youth opposition movement, Oleg Kozlovskiy, told Interfax that he sees not only the special services' desire to increase control over citizens but also lobbying for the commercial interests of Russian telecommunications companies in the proposed ban on services like Skype.

"The FSB does not have the opportunity to read the correspondence of users of these services and this really worries them. They, of course, ideally would like to set up video cameras in every bedroom like in (George) Orwell's work, in order to know who is doing what and to be confident that nothing is being done without their knowledge," Kozlovskiy said, adding that wrongdoers will be able to get around a ban or restriction on the use of these services if they are introduced.

The leader of One Russia's Young Guard, Timur Prokopenko, for his part proposed creating an alternative national communication system in Russia.

"It will be possible to speak about some restriction of Western internet resources - Skype, Gmail and Hotmail - only if an alternative national communication system appears in Russia," Prokopenko said.


Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Google, Alla Zabrovskaya, told Interfax on the same day that the company is open to cooperation with state bodies in countries where it conducts business.

"Google Inc. strives to use the most advanced means for protecting users' information and cooperates with law-enforcement agencies if illegal content is detected," Zabrovskaya said.

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