Privacy International and Agentura.Ru launch the joint project 'Russia’s Surveillance State'

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Privacy International and Agentura.Ru launch the joint project 'Russia’s Surveillance State'

Privacy International, Agentura.Ru, the Russian secret services watchdog, and Citizen Lab have joined forces to launch a new project entitled 'Russia’s Surveillance State'. The aims of the project are to undertake research and investigation into surveillance practices in Russia, including the trade in and use of surveillance technologies, and to publicise research and investigative findings to improve national and international awareness of surveillance and secrecy practices in Russia.  The project is made possible with support from the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto.

The project will consist of three sections:

  1. Mapping the surveillance landscape: establishing which agencies and companies are behind surveillance in Russia, and producing a glossary of surveillance technologies.
  2. Documenting the Surveillance State: reporting on policies and surveillance initiatives, including examples of legal interception contracts and tender notification letters.
  3. Reviewing the legal landscape: collating and analysing relevant pieces of Russian legislation in order to better understand surveillance powers and safeguards.

Over the coming year we will jointly publish various reports and analyses, and release documents identifying the key challenges in protecting Russian citizens from abuses and holding the Russian surveillance state to account.

Mapping the surveillance landscape

At present there are eight agencies in Russia that can conduct operational investigations (including surveillance): the Interior Ministry (MVD), the FSB, the Federal Protective Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, Customs and Excise, The Federal Anti-drug Agency, the Federal Prisons Service (FSIN) and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU). 

According to figures published by the Supreme Court Justice Department, over the last five years the number of legal telephone intercepts alone has almost doubled. In 2011, for example, the police received authorisation from the courts for 466,152 intercepts and recordings of phone calls and intercepts of emails. The equivalent figure for 2006 was 265,937.

As a start, we have put together a brief glossary of surveillance terminology, including a list of abbreviations and acronyms for the agencies involved in surveillance activities and the various government departments responsible for surveillance operations. 

Documenting the Surveillance State

In 1995, a presidential decree (No. 891) stipulated that "control over postal items, telegraphic and other communications ... shall be handed to the bodies of the Federal Security Service...[the FSB]". The same decree ordered that unified central control points (or remote control points) were to be established by the FSB. The first ones were established in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and subsequently in other Russian cities, at regional FSB departments headquarters. A cable was laid from these points to the premises of the providers where special interception equipment had been installed. In this way, the FSB became responsible for installing the SORM equipment, while other intelligence services and the police gained access to the interception system via FSB remote points.

By the first decade of the new millennium, however, the FSB were no longer in sole charge of the technical side of SORM. On forums across the country, Internet providers began to complain about being approached by a variety of different law enforcement and secret services officials demanding that interception equipment corresponding to their own needs should also be installed. At least five Russian government agencies now operate their own systems of interception.

To illustrate these relationships, we have published a number of tender notification letters for the SORM equipment supply, originally placed on the Russian government procurement website (downloads below).

Reviewing the legal landscape

The legal framework governing surveillance operations in Russia primarily consists of the Federal Law on Operational-Search Activities (adopted on 12th August 1995) and the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation. Over the course of the project, we will be analysing how the various pieces of legislation governing communications interception are applied by the courts, and considering firstly whether the existing legal framework is sufficient in and of itself, and secondly whether it is accurately understood and applied by the judiciary.