Russia’s Secret Service Looking for Access to Private E-correspondence

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Apr. 12 – Russia’s secret service, the KGB-successor FSB, has proposed banning Skype, Hotmail and Gmail as their “uncontrolled use” could pose a security threat because “security authorities cannot access them,” Alexander Andreyechkin, a service official said during a government meeting last Friday.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) is “increasingly concerned” by the mass use of these services, which use foreign-made encryption technology, Andreyechkin said at a meeting of the government’s communication and technology committee, RIA Novosti agency reported.

FSB’s Center of Public Relations quoted later Friday as saying that Andreyechkin’s statements were “his own opinion and don’t reflect the government’s policy regarding development of the Internet.”

Later on Friday, Communications Minister Igor Shchyogolev said Russia had no plans to cut off Google, Gmail, Hotmail service or Skype.

“Andreyechkin overstepped his authority and made hasty remarks about these popular services,” the Kremlin’s source familiar with the matter said to the business daily Vedomosti. “State policy in the sphere of Internet technology is not set by security services.”

On the other hand, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended Andreyechkin’s view, calling it “well-reasoned,” Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, Peskov said that Andreyechkin’s view is not the final decision, made by authority.”

The FSB has a point of view: there are other points of view too. They are all going to be discussed,” he added.

A Kremlin source said the FSB proposal was so radical it did not even merit comment, but after an major cyber attack on prominent hosting website LiveJournal many Internet users in Russia said they are worried.

A spokeswoman for LiveJournal Russia told AFP that the company was preparing to file an official complaint on the attacks so the interior ministry could launch a criminal investigation.

The daily Novaya Gazeta on Friday reported a similar attack on its website, which was down most of the day. The paper claimed in its blog that the attack was carried out by the same hackers who crashed LiveJournal.

This is the first time the FSB appears to propose restrictions on a national level, said security analyst Andrei Soldatov.

“This is definitely alarming,” he told AFP, saying the FSB’s goal may be not to close access to the public, but to improve its own access to encrypted information.

“The goal may be to bargain with these services to disclose at least partially their encryption technology,” he said.

“By the law, secret service agents must hold a legal permission to e-mail perlustration, but in reality domestic e-mail services are provide FSB with an access to the users’ e-mails without it,” employee of one of security agencies said to the Vedomosti.

State tight control of television means the Internet is one of the only areas where Russians can vent often scathing criticism of Russian policy elite.

The estimated number of internet users in the country in 2009 was 45.25 million and 59.7 million in 2010, Internet Worlds Statistics says. LiveJournal hosts more than 4.7 million Russian bloggers.

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