Edward Snowden Denounces Russia’s New “Big Brother” Surveillance Bill

The New Yorker Festival 2014 - Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: General view of atmosphere at the Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer at the MasterCard stage at SVA Theatre during The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The New Yorker)
Photograph by Bryan Bedder — Getty Images for The New Yorker

Edward Snowden has been in exile in Russia since 2013, when he leaked classified documents about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs. Now he’s entering a similar fight in his new home, speaking out on Twitter against a Russian bill that would require internet service providers and phone operators to archive records of users’ communications and make them available to law enforcement for six months.

The bill, approved by Russia’s Duma on Friday, encompasses more than just digital surveillance. It also criminalizes anything construed as an approving reaction to terrorism on social media. And in a gesture reminiscent of the tactics of the East German Stasi, it makes failure to report certain kinds of crime to the authorities itself a criminal offense.

But Snowden’s reaction focused on the aspects of the law connected to his own concerns with digital privacy. In addition to the recording requirements, the bill would require any online service that uses encrypted data to cooperate with Russian security services to decrypt messages or information. Snowden’s objections to those provisions aren’t just about ethics.

The Washington Times reports that three large Russian telecom providers–MTS, Megafon, and Vimpelcom–agree with Snowden, saying that the law would require impossibly large infrastructure outlays.

Snowden’s outspoken response could have serious consequences for him. He is currently in Russia on a temporary asylum permit due to expire in August of 2017, and it’s not inconceivable that supporters of this bill will have a say in its extension. In 2013, Snowden applied for asylum in at least 21 other nations, and was almost universally rejected. Though Attorney General Eric Holder told Russia in 2013 that Snowden did not face the death penalty for his crimes, that could be less clear-cut under a new President.

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