Russian operators rally against new data storage law

Three of Russia’s largest operators have warned that a new law which grants far-reaching surveillance powers to the government could cost the mobile industry as much as $34 billion.

Signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin last week, the new bill comes into effect from 20th July. VimpelCom, MegaFon and MTS have argued that the law will infringe civil liberties as well as constituting a huge expense for them: all operators would be obliged to store voice, internet and SMS activity for all subscribers for six months.

In addition, they must retain metadata for this traffic – which can be used to determine the time and location at which users accessed their communications services – for three years.  The operators have argued that this vast increase in their data storage requirements would cost them as much as RUB2.2 trillion ($34 billion).

US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who currently resides in Moscow, also hit out at the bill, tweeting “Putin has signed a repressive new law that violates not only human rights, but common sense. Dark day for #Russia”. He later added: “Signing the #BigBrother law must be condemned. Beyond political and constitution consequences, it is also a $33b+ tax on Russia’s internet.”

While Russia is far from being the first country to order operators to retain data for surveillance by security authorities, the new bill is particularly stringent in terms of the obligations it imposes. Russian search engine Yandex noted that the legislation will dramatically impact the rights of both companies and individuals.

It may transpire that the actual costs of data storage are not as high as the operators have claimed; they could be stating the worst case scenario. There is also the possibility that the government could be convinced of an alternative arrangement prior to implementing the law in July 2018.

As an example of such a compromise, MegaFon CEO Sergey Soldatenkov suggested the imposition of a further 1% tax on operator revenue, the proceeds of which could then be used to construct a government data centre so that the onus did not rest exclusively with the mobile industry.