Russia Introduces New Draft Law on Social Networks

April 20, 2018

Russian lawmakers have proposed a draft law that would impose new obligations on the owners of public networks. Such owners with no registered presence in Russia would be required to set up a local representative office. Other obligations would include identifying users by their mobile phone numbers, deleting “fake news”, and preventing the posting of materials that promote violence or pornography, contain strong language, or otherwise breach Russian laws governing content. Lawmakers have also proposed a separate law that would impose stiff fines for violations.

Russia continues to introduce new laws regulating the internet. Since 2014, it has adopted a number of laws addressing various internet-related activities and services, including messenger services, audiovisual services, news aggregators, information services and virtual private networks (VPNs). Currently, social networks are subject to the rules that govern “organizers of information dissemination,” defined as persons operating information systems and/or programs for computers that are intended and/or used for the receipt, transmission, delivery, and/or processing of electronic communications from internet users (information services). Among other requirements, such rules require social networks serving users in Russia to register with the Russian media and data regulator, Roskomnadzor, and to store certain information about users and their communications on local Russian servers (the Local Storage Requirements). As of July 1, 2018, the Local Storage Requirements will extend to information that users post or exchange on social networks, although only for limited time periods. Social networks are also required to provide Russian law enforcement agencies with access to such information.

Russian legislators are now considering further changes. A draft law governing the activities of public networks was introduced on April 3 in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. (A prior version had been considered in 2017.) Under the draft law, a public network is defined as any internet platform or resource allowing enrolled users to post electronic messages (including texts, pictures, audio, or video) and to exchange messages with other enrolled users. The draft law would apply if a public network has more than 100,000 users in Russia per day, and would impose new obligations on the owners of public networks. These include requirements to identify users by their mobile phone numbers; install software approved by Roskomnadzor to calculate the number of users; at the request of a user, delete any information violating Russian laws; maintain a register of such requests; at the request of Roskomnadzor, delete "fake news”; and prevent the posting of materials that promote pornography, violence, cruelty, or contain strong language. An owner of a public network with no registered presence in Russia would be required to establish a local representative office.

Breaches may lead to monetary penalties of up to 50 million rubles (about $800,000), as well as potential blocking of all access by Russian users. These tough penalties are proposed in another draft law that is separately being considered by the State Duma.

Both draft laws were approved at a first hearing on April 12. It is unclear when further action will be taken. Before a draft law can be adopted, second and third hearings in the State Duma as well as further approval in the Council of Federation, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, are required, as well as the signature of the Russian president. If enacted in their current form, the draft laws will come into force on July 1, 2018.


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Vasilisa Strizh

Moscow/Washington, DC
Brian L. Zimbler