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[infowar.de] russische Internetkontrolle durch Geheimdienste
Washington Post, 7.3.2002
Russian Spies, They've Got Mail
By Sharon LaFraniere
MOSCOW -- Nail Murzakhanov, an Internet provider in Volgograd, knew he
lose his business license four years ago when he told the Federal
Service, Russia's domestic intelligence agency, that he would not give
access to the e-mail traffic of his 1,500 subscribers.
When the Communications Ministry suspended his license for failure to
cooperate with the intelligence agency, known as the FSB, Murzakhanov
Surprisingly, in August 2000, he got his license back. "In the end, I
left in peace," he said in a phone call from an office filled with
colored computer games.
The standoff was surprising not so much because Murzakhanov won, but
it occurred at all. Typically, Internet providers in Russia say they do
they can to satisfy the state security services, even if it means
over the password of every client.
That is one telling barometer of the security services' continuing power
Russia's 11-year-old democracy. In theory, Russians are entitled to as
privacy in their communications as Americans. Both the Russian
and a 1995 law prohibit law enforcement agencies from monitoring phone
calls, pager messages, radio transmissions, e-mails or Internet traffic
without a court order.
But in practice, critics say, court orders are little more than legal
niceties in Russia. An obscure set of technical regulations issued in
late 1990s permits total access without ever approaching a judge.
The regulations are known as SORM, the Russian acronym for System for
Operational-Investigative Activities. They require Internet providers to
give their local FSB office whatever hardware, software and fiber-optic
lines may be needed to tap into the provider's system and all its users.
While U.S. law is based on the premise that law enforcement agencies
held in check, Russian civil rights advocates say the premise of SORM is
that Russian law enforcement can be trusted to keep itself in check.
"They have all the conditions to abuse their power," said Yuri Vdovin,
heads Citizens' Watch, a St. Petersburg human rights organization funded
the Ford Foundation. "The system is on purpose constructed in such a way
that there is no way anyone can control them. A Russian citizen is not
protected at all."
Internet providers don't like the system, especially since they promise
clients in their contracts that their e-mail will be kept confidential.
a decade after perestroika, Russia is still a country where people are
inclined to fight city hall, much less what was once the secret police.
Eugene Prygoff is the former marketing director of Kuban.net., an
provider in the southwestern Russia city of Krasnodar. He said the vast
majority of providers are simply not willing to risk their licenses to
the principle of privacy. "They see no sense in putting up resistance.
they work out a deal with the FSB," he said.
And compared with their counterparts in the West, civil rights
are still scarce and often too weak to challenge the state. Citizens'
for instance, is working with a group of Russian lawyers to prepare a
complaint against SORM. At the same time, the group's 12 employees are
working on issues of freedom of the press, racial discrimination,
crime, military reform and state secrecy.
Not every provider ends up installing a direct line to the local FSB
according to Mikhail Yakushev, head of the legal department at Global
an international firm andone of Moscow's biggest Internet providers.
one works out its own confidential agreement with the security service,
said. He stressed that his comments reflected the views of an Internet
providers association, where he heads the legal working group, not
"In practice SORM is not as abusive as it could be, because the FSB
have enough qualified staff or special equipment to be as active as they
could," he said.
"But then again, who knows what will happen next year, or next month?
biggest problem is no one to control them. If there is a line, and
that allows them access, then no one can track them."
Until a Supreme Court ruling in late 2000, the FSB was not even required
tell providers that its agents were tapping the system. The complaint in
that case was filed by a 26-year-old St. Petersburg journalist, who said
got tired of waiting for civil rights groups or providers to protest.
Murzakhanov, now 36 and the director of Bayard-Slavia Communications in
Volgograd, 575 miles south of Moscow, is the only provider to publicly
a fuss. Murzakhanov said that in 1998, a year after the company opened,
agents presented the firm with a plan to hook up the local FSB offices.
Besides $100,000 worth of hardware, software and computer lines,
said, the FSB wanted all the tools that he had, as the administrator of
system. "They could very easily have read all the clients' passwords.
once they learned the passwords, they could have controlled online all
e-mail traffic," he said. "They could have read or rewritten an e-mail
before the receiver got it, and the user would never know."
His refusal to sign the FSB's plan brought untold headaches. He said his
business was audited or inspected at least 15 times for compliance with
fire, epidemiological, sanitation, labor protection and tax codes.
The FSB also switched off his main data transmission line, he said,
him to rely on low-quality, dial-up channels. His business license was
suspended for six months. Only after Communications Ministry officials
failed to show up for four court hearings did he recover it.
Murzakhanov said the ministry deliberately punted. "They didn't want to
expose the entire system of pressuring providers. They decided it was
to lose and to keep the cover on the system."
So far, no other provider is eager to follow the Volgograd example, said
Anatoly Levenchuk, an Internet expert in Moscow who first revealed the
"They all say his case shows all the trouble you can have if you try to
oppose the authorities," he said.
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