Russia Warns US Social Media Companies With Hefty Fines, Asks To Stay Away From Domestic Affairs During Election

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Internet services are under greater scrutiny in the run-up to Russia's parliamentary elections between 17 and 19 September.

Russian lawmaker stated that the actions by the tech giants during Russian elections are seen as "illegal and directly linked to interference in Russia's purely domestic affairs".

On the eve of parliamentary elections in Russia, it warned American social media companies with large fines if they do not remove content the authorities deem unlawful. The Russian government also asked that Apple and Google stop allegedly interfering in its internal affairs.

Internet services are under greater scrutiny in the run-up to Russia's parliamentary elections between 17 and 19 September. According to Russian officials, foreign companies are obstructing their efforts to restrict virtual private networks (VPNs) and online sites related to imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Vadim Subbotin, who is the deputy head of national communications regulator Roskomnadzor, has now hinted that large fines could be imposed in a long-running dispute over restricted content. According to Reuters, Subbotin was quoted by Interfax as saying: "We will now consider applying turnover fines on those companies that systematically violate Roskomnadzor's demands."

While Russia has previously imposed several tiny fines on foreign tech firms, applying penalties depending on their turnover could result in significantly larger penalties. Facebook, Twitter and Google are among the companies currently at risk, according to Subbotin.

Additionally, he said that Roskomnadzor now has significant tools capable of executing Russian law's requirements. However, he did not share any further details about it.

According to reports, since March this year, Roskomnadzor has successfully restricted Twitter's performance, prevented some VPN providers from working and disabled major domain name system (DNS) services for several hours last week. IT expert Mikhail Klimarev said that now, "Russia is way ahead of China in terms of blocking capabilities".

In March, Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview: "No one wants a full ban and it would be silly to advocate for one. But it's necessary to force the companies to follow our rules. We'd like to hope that it won't come to that and that ways to resolve the conflict will be found."

Russian prosecutors made formal contacts to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on 9 September, ordering them to stop infringing Russian law by continuing to let individuals access Navalny's outlawed tactical voting app on App Store and Play Store, said lawmaker Andrei Klimov on 16 September.

Additionally, he stated that the actions by the tech giants during Russian elections are seen as "illegal and directly linked to interference in Russia's purely domestic affairs".

Apple's AppStore was down earlier this week, while telecoms carriers in Russia began limiting access to Google Docs late on 15 September, according to GlobalCheck, a nonprofit that monitors internet accessibility in Russia.

In 2019, Russia approved a law aiming at developing a "sovereign internet," which would isolate the country's internet from the worldwide web, tightening government control over cyberspace and suffocating free speech. At that time, Peskov said: "If you don't want to accept our rules you cannot work here."

"Not a single self-respecting country will allow a company to impose its own terms. That's not possible," he added.

In June this year, Russian lawmakers enacted legislation requiring American internet titans to open offices in Russia by January 2022. As reported, the foreign sites with more than half a million daily visitors in Russia must set up a local branch or Russian legal organisation, according to the new legislation, which passed its third and final reading in the lower chamber of parliament.

The bill's authors said that the lack of such a provision currently permits foreign sites to technically remain outside of Russian jurisdiction.

According to the Russian parliament, websites that do not comply will be flagged as non-compliant on search engines, may be removed from search results and will be prohibited from advertising in Russia and to Russians.

Also Read: Singapore's Newly Proposed Law Against Foreign Interference Includes Content Take Down And Blocking Orders

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