AP By DASHA LITVINOVA
Rights advocates say that Russia under President Vladimir Putin has harnessed digital technology to track, censor and control the population, building what some call a “cyber gulag” — a dark reference to the labor camps that held political prisoners in Soviet times.
It’s new territory, even for a nation with a long history of spying on its citizens.
“The Kremlin has indeed become the beneficiary of digitalization and is using all opportunities for state propaganda, for surveilling people, for de-anonymizing internet users,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, head of legal practice at Roskomsvoboda, a Russian internet freedom group the Kremlin deems a “foreign agent.”
RISING ONLINE CENSORSHIP AND PROSECUTIONS
The Kremlin’s seeming indifference about digital monitoring appeared to change after 2011-12 mass protests were coordinated online, prompting authorities to tighten internet controls.
Some regulations allowed them to block websites; others mandated that cellphone operators and internet providers store call records and messages, sharing the information with security services if needed. Authorities pressured companies like Google, Apple and Facebook to store user data on Russian servers, to no avail, and announced plans to build a “sovereign internet” that could be cut off from the rest of the world.