Russia is tightening the screw on social media website Facebook as the Kremlin and its main internet watchdog said they could block the site as soon as next year unless it hands over user information to Moscow.
As part of a general strategy to empower Russian authorities over online communication, the country’s parliament adopted a new law in 2014 demanding that all web services handling Russians’ private data must place the relevant servers periodically in Russia. This puts them in the jurisdiction of Russian police.
So far, this has given the Kremlin a legal recourse to threaten some web services with closure if they do not give government agencies access to user data, but this is yet to be enforced widely. Opponents of the law have repeatedly argued that it is part of the Russian government's ambition to abolish internet anonymity as part of its way to combat opposition.
Encrypted messenger service Telegram, founded by once-feted online ally of the Russian opposition Pavel Durov, has already coalesced to the law.
Speaking to the Interfax news agency on Tuesday, the head of the Russian state internet watchdog Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov said Facebook will have to comply next.
“The law applies to everyone,” Zharov said. “In any case, either we will accomplish the law’s implementation, or the company will cease working on the territory of the Russian Federation, as, unfortunately, was the case with LinkedIn. There are no exceptions.”
A court upheld the decision to block LinkedIn in Russia last year, and the Kremlin has said it will not intervene. The website, intended specifically for social networking professionals, became the first major example of a large foreign online company to be ousted under the law, known as Russia’s 242nd federal law.
“We are going to make it so the 242nd law is observed by Facebook,” Zharov said. “In 2018, everything will be straightened,” he added, underlining that the Russian government has set a deadline for the company to comply but did not say what that is.
When asked about Zharov’s comments, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman effectively echoed the Roskomnadzor chief’s words.
“This is a commercial company, which makes money and which should comply in accordance with the Russian Federation’s law,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday. Asked if ousting Facebook from Russia would represent any sort of loss to the country, Peskov said it would not be right to evaluate the situation in this way.