Russia’s internet watchdog agency Roskomnadzor warns that laws banning the use of many foreign private messaging applications in Russian government and state agencies came into force today. The law is “On information, information technology, and information protection,” specifically Part 8-10 of Article 10, which prohibits Russian agencies from using information exchange systems owned by foreign entities. “The law establishes a ban for a number of Russian organizations on the use of foreign messengers (information systems and computer programs owned by foreign persons that are designed and (or) used for exchanging messages exclusively between their users, in which the sender determines the recipients of messages and does not provide for placement by Internet users publicly available information on the Internet),” warns Roskomnadzor. The banned services mentioned by Roskomnadzor include the following: Discord, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Snapchat, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WhatsApp, and WeChat Interestingly, the California-based “Zoom,” isn’t on Roskomnadzor’s list. Likewise, the encrypted messaging service “Signal” is not mentioned in the list. The Russian state has previously demanded that some of the above products, including Discord and Telegram, remove “misinformation” from their platforms. However, the current ban does not appear to be an effort to curb the influx of foreign information that could shape the opinion of the local population, but rather a precaution to prevent leaks of sensitive information to foreign entities.
Although it remains unknown as to why they did not ban Signal and Zoom, Russia has long attempted to control social media within its borders. Russia has been attempting to ban telegram since 2018; Telegram’s CEO claimed the Russian government planned to ban Telegram unless they handed over sensitive data and access to encrypted messages. The problem has become a larger issue for Russia since they invaded Ukraine in February of last year. The invasion sparked a large hacktivist moment on both sides of the conflict. Groups have taken to encrypted messaging services to leak sensitive data for both Ukrainian and Russian organizations, government entities, and military locations and information. Now it seems Putin’s administration is tightening its grip on social media as the war continues with no end in sight.