What Will Be The Outcome Of Putin’s War Against The Internet?

April 25, 2014: Putin aims to lock horns with internet giants over acquisition of data.

The Russian government has taken a handful of measures to claim state control over the internet in the country. Among these measures is the bid to acquire Russian internet data.

The government demands ownership of all the Russian internet data and believes it has the right to scrutinize it at will. Perhaps inspired by the NSA’s possession of internet data from American servers, President Vladimir Putin wants the same degree of authority, with the only problem being, Russian servers do not store all the Russian data.

Therefore, the proposed ‘easy fix’ to the problem is a bill passed by the Russian parliament which will compel western internet giants, such as Facebook, Google, and Skype, to a) store Russian data on local servers within the country, and b) let Russian authorities acquire and inspect the data at will. Failure to comply might result in a ban on their operations within Russia.

It seems that Putin is taking on too big of a challenge here. This may be a result of an overestimation of his authority. Taking on all major companies at once will not only be detrimental to his position but also damaging to the stability of the country.

Let us consider the chances of his data acquisition ambitions being fulfilled.

Currently, the only legal way to acquire oversees data is to submit a mutual legal assistance request to the host country. However, the downside is the risk of being denied.The other option is, of course, the measure under discussion.

Acquiring data from companies like Facebook and Gmail is a near impossible field, primarily because of two reasons. First, particularly in the backdrop of the NSA revelations, these companies will likely not succumb to Russian demands because of the risk of aggravating their Russian user base. Second, banning social media outright will probably cause uproar far greater than what Moscow is capable of handling.

Much is at stake here. Putin is at the risk of facing not only domestic backlash, but also international isolation. He seems to be oblivious of the economic perils of internet censorship and advantages of openness. Like all of his contemporary authoritarians, he is also grossly unaware on how to handle the internet. What else can one expect from a person who thinks the internet is a ‘CIA project’?