The lower house of Russia's parliament has passed a new law that would ban the sale of electronic devices in the country that do not have Russian software pre-installed on them, raising fears of a new push for government surveillance and censorship.
Russia bans electronic devices that lack Russian-made alternatives to popular apps
This week, BBC News reported that the lower house of the Duma, Russia's parliament, passed a law that would ban the sale of electronic devices in the country that do not have Russian-made alternatives to popular apps pre-installed on them before they are sold.
Online privacy advocates say that the new law is intended to increase surveillance and censorship by the government, while the bill's proponents argue that they are trying to promote Russian industries over foreign competition.
The law does not ban the use of non-Russian-made software on devices, just that Russian alternatives to any pre-installed, non-Russian apps need to be installed alongside them.
"When we buy complex electronic devices, they already have individual applications, mostly Western ones, pre-installed on them," Oleg Nikolayev, one of the bill's co-authors, told the Interfax news agency.
"Naturally, when a person sees them... they might think that there are no domestic alternatives available. And if, alongside pre-installed applications, we will also offer the Russian ones to users, then they will have a right to choose"
New law raises concerns about government surveillance, censorship, and a chilling effect on business
Industry groups have pointed out that some devices will not be able to install Russian-made software on them and companies producing the devices may have to leave the Russian market entirely rather than run afoul of the new law.
One such company might be Apple, whose representatives have reportedly warned the Russian government that the company was willing to abandon the Russian market since it isn't seen as a significant enough driver of revenue to justify the effort to comply with the new law.
Others have come right out and declared that the law is an effort to expand the Russian government's surveillance and censorship efforts. Several new internet laws have been enacted in Russia over the past several years, including one that forces search engines to delete certain search results as well as one that requires messaging services to turn over encryption keys, which could allow the government to read users' communications without their knowing it.
This newest effort follows closely after Russia's controversial "sovereign internet" law which introduces tighter controls over internet traffic in Russia. The Russian government says its intentions are purely to reduce cyberattacks, but many are skeptical and fear that Russia is trying to create its own version of the "Great Firewall of China," that country's largely successful effort to cut its population off from the global Internet.
Whether the Russian government could even do such a thing at this point is uncertain, but with the rash of new internet laws like the one passed this week, they certainly seem intent on trying anyway.