On July 7, President Vladimir Putin signed a package of controversial anti-terrorist amendments into law. The package is known as the “Yarovaya Legislation,” named after its co-author Irina Yarovaya, a member of the United Russia, the current ruling authoritarian party. The legislation will have a tremendous impact on civil rights in the country, as well as the already beleaguered state of the Russian economy.
Among other changes, the “Yarovaya Legislation” extends prison sentences for extremism and terrorism, outlaws “inducing, recruiting, or otherwise involving” others in the organization of mass unrest, expands government powers to prosecute minors, and makes “failure to report a crime” covered by the legislation a criminal offence punishable by one year in prison.
The legislation includes a set of amendments concerning Internet and telecom providers. It requires Russian telecom companies to store records of all calls, text messages, videos, and photos for six months, and all the metadata from calls and text messages for three years. So-called “organizers of information distribution on the Internet” – email clients, messenger apps, or social networks – are required to help the Federal Security Services (FSB) decrypt any communications it requests. A failure to cooperate with FSB can result in a fine of $15,000.
Critics have called the “Yarovaya Legislation” “nonsensical and brazenly repressive,” and argue that the draconian law was designed and will be used to target Putin’s opponents, instead of countering terrorism. Experts believe the law will be exorbitantly expensive for Internet and telecom companies, the government, and citizens.
In its pursuit of creating an all-encompassing surveillance machine, the legislation exceeds Russia’s current technological capabilities. Citing statements by Russian Internet companies, Yandex and Mail.ru, independent Russian media outlet, Meduza, reported that the country “would need every data-storage manufacturer in the world working for seven years straight, before the country had the infrastructure necessary to accommodate so much storage and processing.” According to rough estimations made by independent tech experts, the cost of implementing new infrastructure that will meet the legislation’s technical requirements will cost more than 5 trillion rubles, or approximately $77 billion.
The legislation will also impact the Russian economy. Low oil prices, the falling ruble, international economic sanctions, among other factors, have forced the Russian government to dip into its federal reserves, which, according to a report from Reuters earlier this month, will likely run out by 2017 at current rates of spending. Russian Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, told The New York Times earlier this year that the country may need to dip into its National Wealth Fund, which is primarily used to finance pensions.
The “Yarovaya Legislation” is the latest example of overly expansive and expensive measure designed to entrench the regime’s power. In the past, the Russian government has pursued other costly policies to ensure its own stability, including creating a National Guard earlier this year.
At a time when the Kremlin should be looking to ease Russia’s pressing economic problems, it is unclear where the government will find the money to implement the new legislation. It is obvious, however, that the legislation not only will weaken an already failing Russian economy, but also will do so at the expense of ordinary Russians, who will literally and figuratively pay the highest price for a surveillance system designed to infringe upon their freedoms and privacy.