Andreas Broeckmann on Fri, 10 Dec 1999 08:53:57 +0200

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Syndicate: [RRE]Internet surveillance in Russia

[The enclosed article, originally posted on David Johnson's Russia
List <>, is from the Moscow Times.  David
tells me that they are happy to have their material forwarded,
and he observes that their URL is <>.
I have reformatted it.  Do send me any other electronic-related
global civil liberties material that might be widely interesting.
Phil Agre]


Date: 8.12.99 3:49 AM
From: Center for Civil Society International,
To: Multiple recipients of list, civilsoc@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU

Xposted from Johnson's Russia List,  #3666
7 December 1999
Moscow Times
December 7, 1999
FSB Now Wired to Read Your E-Mail
By Jen Tracy
Staff Writer

Critics and fans of the security services agree: Internet service
providers across Russia are helping the main KGB successor agencies
to read private e-mails and other Internet traffic, as part of an
ambitious internal espionage program called SORM-2.

"SORM implementation is in full force and I suspect that all [Internet
service] providers have at least begun the process and many have
completed it", said Yury Vdovin, vice chairman of the St. Petersburg-
based Citizens' Watch human rights group.

"None of the providers will talk about it, though", Vdovin added.
"They are all afraid."

"All providers are gradually starting to implement SORM, because their
licenses will be revoked if they don't", agreed Yelena Volchinskaya,
a consultant for the State Duma Security Council and author of the
recent book "Internet and Glasnost".  Unlike Vdovin, she supports the
SORM-2 project as a valuable crime-fighting tool.

SORM -- which stands for Sistema Operativno-Rozysknykh Meropriyatii,
or System for Operational-Investigative Activities -- was first born
in a 1995 government regulation that gave the security services the
right to monitor all telecommunications transmissions, provided they
first obtained a warrant.

SORM-2 was an additional regulation issued in July 1998 by the Federal
Security Service, or FSB, and by the State Communications Committee.
It mandated that Internet service providers install, at their
own expense, technology to link their computers to those at FSB
headquarters -- allowing the agency to monitor select electronic
transmissions, from private e-mails to e-commerce purchases, in real

The costs to the Internet service provider are estimated from $10,000
to $30,000, not including any future upgrades.  That's enough to shut
down some smaller providers, and some SORM-watchers argue that the big
Internet players actually welcome SORM as it helps them shore up their

So far, only one Internet service provider, Bayard-Slavia of
Volgograd, has publicly refused to cooperate with the new regulation.
In March, Bayard-Slavia was shut down, officially because of a problem
with its government-issued license; company director, Nail Murzakhanov
says he was told he would be closed if he did not accept SORM.

Murzakhanov argues the FSB will be able to use SORM-2 to do everything
from retrieving and altering e-mail communication to selling
commercial secrets and other stolen information.  But Murzakhanov
says the FSB is still powerless in one key area -- it has no technical
experts who would allow it to understand the system on its own.
Murzakhanov insists the key to fighting SORM is simply refusing to
comply, no matter what the costs.

But of Russia's telecommunications companies, Bayard-Slavia was
virtually alone in its outspoken opposition to SORM-2.

Most others prefer not to talk about it at all.  Moscow
telecommunications companies and Internet service providers were
hesitant to confirm or deny whether they have installed SORM-2 links
to Lubyanka.

Technology specialists at Combellga, one of Moscow's largest
telecommunications companies, claimed not to know if the technology
had been installed. One systems operator said that "in my opinion, we
haven't started it -- yet".

Technology specialists at Glasnet, a major Internet service provider,
refused to comment and referred all calls to the public relations
director, who was unavailable for comment at the time.

A Global One representative said no one was available to discuss SORM,
while the FSB and the Communications Committee failed to respond to
faxed questions.

Citizens' Watch says St. Petersburg's Web Plus -- an Internet service
provider owned by Telekominvest -- has installed SORM-2 equipment,
making it possible for the local FSB to receive transmissions of their
choice in real time. No one was available to comment at Web Plus.

On Nov. 12, the State Communications Committee -- co-author of SORM-2
-- was renamed the Communications Ministry.  Five days later, newly
appointed Communications Minister Leonid Reiman hit the podium with a
call for stricter Internet controls. He did not specifically mention

But despite the elevation of Goskomsvyaz to the Cabinet, Vdovin says
it's still the FSB calling the shots.

"[The ministry] does what the FSB tells them to do", Vdovin said.

Volchinskaya agreed that the FSB is the real player in the SORM game
and that the Goskomsvyaz promotion would have very little effect.

The FSB says SORM will help law enforcement track and capture
criminals ranging from tax evaders to pedophiles because such people
may conduct or discuss their business electronically.

"SORM is a normal system for locating criminals and tax evaders. The
United States has such a system - every country does", Volchinskaya
said.  "The question is how the FSB will use this system.  But,
according to the law, they can only monitor transmissions with a court

Human rights groups counter that the Russian security services --
which have never renounced their KGB traditions -- cannot be trusted
with such power.  They argue that agents will abuse SORM to assemble
political dossiers for blackmail purposes and to steal and sell
commercial secrets.  And they worry that the FSB will not bother
getting a court order when they can see private citizens' personal
information with the click of a mouse.

The U.S. government does indeed have an e-mail monitoring program -
and one that also circumvents the courts.  The U.S. National Security
Agency's Echelon project, though still highly secretive, is used to
monitor and store e-mail and other electronic communications around
the world.

Some U.S. Internet and privacy experts nevertheless find SORM-2 more
disquieting than Echelon.

"With SORM-2, Russia is going farther than any other democratic
country in controlling the design of private-sector communications
systems for surveillance purposes", said Jim Dempsey, director of the
Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington.

"The proposal is particularly troubling given the lack of clear legal
standards and effective judicial oversight for FSB activation of SORM

"Echelon and its counterparts in the U.K., Canada, Australia and New
Zealand take the technology as it finds it -- that is, Echelon is not
coercive.  It does not rely upon government-mandated surveillance
features being built into telecom systems."

The Duma's Volchinskaya argues that it is not a question of coercion,
but of finances.  "The FSB doesn't have the money [for SORM]", she
said, "and the government won't pass this in the budget".

CivilSoc is an electronic information service provided free of charge
to 1,600 subscribers worldwide by CCSI--Center for Civil Society
International--in association with Friends & Partners. To submit items
for posting to CivilSoc, send them to <>

To unsubscribe from CivilSoc:
1. Address an e-mail to: <>
2. Leave Subject line blank. In the Message area, type: unsub civilsoc
3. Send message.

For more information about civic initiatives in Eurasia, visit our Web
site:  Past CivilSoc postings can
be found at:

This message was forwarded through the Red Rock Eater News Service (RRE).
Send any replies to the original author, listed in the From: field below.
You are welcome to send the message along to others but please do not use
the "redirect" option.  For information about RRE, including instructions
for (un)subscribing, see
or send a message to with Subject: info rre

------Syndicate mailinglist--------------------
 Syndicate network for media culture and media art
 information and archive:
 to unsubscribe, write to <>
 in the body of the msg: unsubscribe your@email.adress