'Putin has signed a repressive new law that violates not only human rights, but common sense'.
Whistleblower and press freedom activist Edward Snowden has condemned a new law signed on Thursday by Vladimir Putin, saying it's a “dark day for Russia”.
The new anti-terror legislation forces telephone carriers and internet providers to store the private communications of their customers – and turn them over to the government on request.
“Putin has signed a repressive new law that violates not only human rights, but common sense. Dark day for Russia,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Snowden is a former employee of the USNational Security Agency (NSA) who exposed global surveillance programmes in 2013 through a leak of classified NSA documents.
The whistleblower joined Twitter in September and has more than 2.2 million followers. However, he only follows one account on the social network – that of the NSA.
Russian communication providers may have to spend more than $30 billion to implement the new laws, Mr Snowden added in a second tweet.
“Signing the Big Brother law must be condemned. Beyond political and constitution consequences, it is also a $33b+ tax on Russia's internet,” he wrote.
The communication companies will have to keep a record of their users’ calls, text messages, photos, and internet activity for six months, and store ‘metadata’ for three years, according to theInternational Business Times.
And messaging services that use digital encryption, such as WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram, could face fines of thousands of pounds if they continue to operate in Russia without handing over their encryption key to the government.
“Even the Soviet Union did not have such an overwhelmingly repressive legislation,” Russian politician and businessman Gennady Gudkov told the Los Angeles Times.
“This is 100 percent a step toward an Iron Curtain.”
The new legislation, which makes “failure to report a crime” a criminal offence, comes into force on 20 July.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, told reporters: “The law has been passed along with a list of recommendations to the government designed to minimize potential financial risks.”
“If the law produces any undesired outcomes, the government will introduce measures accordingly by presidential decree.”
Mike Eckel reports:
The legislation, signed into law earlier this month by Russian President Vladimir Putin, had already drawn scorn from critics in and outside of Russia.
Known as the "Yarovaya Law," the measure includes new police and counterterrorism measures that directly echo the sweeping powers wielded by the KGB to stifle dissent and repress opposition activists throughout the Soviet era.
But one largely overlooked aspect of the law is garnering new scrutiny and worry: tight restrictions on the activities of religious groups, particularly smaller denominations.
The new restrictions "will make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people," said Thomas J. Reese, who heads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government agency that monitors religious expression around the world.
"Neither these measures nor the currently existing antiextremism law meet international human rights and religious freedom standards," he said in statement released last week.
For religious groups, the new law requires people to get official permits through a registered religious group and bars things like prayer meetings from taking place anywhere except for officially recognized religious buildings. That would potentially forbid house churches.
Members of a religious group would also potentially be barred from e-mailing invitations to people interested in services, according to Christianity Today, a web-based news service focused on religious issues.
Violators could be fined, or potentially expelled from Russia.
Sergei Ryakhovsky, a Pentecostal church leader and co-head of an organization of Protestant churches in Russia, said in an open letter co-signed by him that the law contradicted the Russian Constitution.
"The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures, is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions," said the letter, which was posted on the Russian-language religious website Portal-Credo.
"This law brings us back to a shameful past," it said.
Last month, four of Russia’s leading mobile operators wrote a joint letter to the Russian Federation Council asking to revoke the new laws, according to the Moscow Times.