The main events of the week:
Visa and MasterCard unavailable in Crimea
Visa and MasterCard suspended their cards services in Crimea due to the new package of sanctions against Russian banks. The international payment systems will no longer service any card transactions in the peninsula.
New Russian Laws in 2015
In 2015 Russia will introduce new plastic ID cards that will replace paper internal passports by 2030. New ID cards will contain a chip with electronic personal data of its holder. Such data will include electronic signatures, insurance and tax numbers, and biometric data. Further, President Putin also signed a bill on personal data protection which requires all companies and online services to keep Russian citizens’ personal data within the country’s territory, i.e. on Russian servers and databases. This controversial regulation has already affected foreign IT companies and social networks in Russia.
Belarus adopts anti-drug decree
On 28 December 2014 President Lukashenko signed the Decree No. 6 “Concerning prompt measures to counteract illegal drug trade” which aims to introduce measures to fight against illegal drug trade. However, it also introduced broader powers to the Information Ministry and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to block Internet sources and control users’ online activity. The Information Ministry will restrict access to websites on the basis of requests from the MIA. Additionally, holders of any digital wallets available in Belarus such as Paypal, Webmoney, YandexMoney and other digital payments systems, will no longer enjoy anonymity as under the new law they must be identified. Finally, the Decree obliged all Internet-source owners to control and analyse all information, messages, and comments posted on their websites and operators must keep records of the user’s online activity. This imposes liability for third-party comments on website owners and creates additional burdens for owners of any online sources
Several Internet sources associated with Navalny became inaccessible last week. The access to a website that published Navalny’s last word in court proceedings on Yves Rocher case was restricted by Roskomnadzor on 30 December during the protest in Moscow. Initially, the court was to announce its decision on 15 January 2015 but the announcement date was moved forward to 30 December 2014. Navalny’s supporters launched a Facebook event to hold a public meeting in support of Navalny on 15 January 2015, which Roskomnadzor blocked. Navalny’s blogpost informing his supporters about the date change was included on the list of restricted information by the Russian regulator. The regulator also issued official warnings to 4 online media sources which published materials and articles related to Navalny and protests in Moscow. Further, Belarussian website Charter97.org was blocked in Russia for the same reason.
Ukraine: TV channel Inter under political pressure
Ukrainian TV channel broadcasted popular Russian New Year’s Eve show with Russian signers and other celebrities. After the show Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov demanded the revocation of Inter’s broadcasting license. Ukraine banned 14 Russian celebrities who supported Crimean referendum.
CNN ends broadcasting in Russia
CNN announced its intention to end broadcasting on Russian territory in November 2014. The decision was linked to the new media law which restricts foreign capital involvement in Russian media. On 31 December 2014, the international news channel officially ended it’s broadcasting in Russia. However, as of writing, the CNN news bureau is still operating.
Sony hacked by Russians?
Security experts from Taia Security suggest that Russian hackers may be responsible for the incident. Experts analysed messages and threats received by Sony employees and identified that based on linguistic characteristics the hackers may be native Russian speakers. The study suggests that North Korea is unlikely to be involved.
FireChat was temporarily restricted in Russia
The messengers’ technical domain https://firechat.s3.amazonaws.com was inaccessible on 30 December 2014 during protests supporting Navalny brothers in Moscow. The domain was included on a list of restricted websites by Roskomnadzor upon the request from the Prosecutor General’s office. FireChat application provides messaging services offline and was widely used during protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The number of the app downloads in Russia increased dramatically after Navalny supporters suggested to download it before protests on 30 December 2014 . According to a search on Roskomnadzor website on 2 January 2015 the messenger’s technical domain is accessible again.