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Putin Is Building a Great Russian Firewall

To protect the nation from terrorism, a new law requires ISPs to store all web traffic, including private chat rooms and e-mails, for as long as six months.

Denis Davydov, executive director of the Safe Internet League, a nongovernmental organization closely linked to the Kremlin, is happy with what the Duma did this summer. Davydov says a piece of legislation signed into law on July 7 by President Vladimir Putin will protect the nation from terrorists. The law requires internet service providers such as MTS, a cell phone operator, and search engine Yandex to store all Russian traffic, including all private chat rooms, e-mails, and social network posts, for as long as six months at their own expense as of July 1, 2018. The providers, which include global giants such as Facebook’s WhatsApp, must also surrender encryption keys to Russian security services. The backers of the measure argue that by giving the Kremlin total access to internet traffic, the guardians of public safety will never be taken unawares.

The law is one of about a dozen enacted over the last four years to police Russia’s cyberspace and cordon it off from the global net. One piece of legislation allows the state to block sites without seeking a court’s approval. Hundreds have been blocked already. Thanks to such measures, Davydov says, “we can be sure that here in Moscow no one will take a truck and ram it into a crowd of people or take an ax and start hacking people on a suburban train.”