Want Email in Russia? The Kremlin Wants Your Phone Number First

Ilya Khrennikov

(Bloomberg) -- Russians who want to send email will have to disclose their identities under draft legislation that includes a ban on sharing content deemed illegal in messages.

Internet providers would be compelled to link accounts of email users to their mobile phone numbers in the proposals submitted to Russia’s upper house of parliament by senators Andrei Klishas and Lyudmila Bokova on Tuesday.

The Kremlin has been tightening control over the internet as support for President Vladimir Putin declines amid a groundswell of protests against the authorities on issues ranging from elections to trash collection and declining living standards. The new legislation follows a similar law on messaging services passed in 2017 that required them to identify users and block sharing of content outlawed by the authorities.

“Email services providers should only allow messages to be transmitted from identified users,” the senators wrote in an explanatory note. The legislation is needed to counter terrorism and prevent the spread of “knowingly false” bomb threats, they said.

The bill is “inappropriate and excessive,” said Vladimir Gabrielyan, vice president of Russia’s Mail.ru Group. “It involves significant inconveniences for users and discriminates against Russian market players,” since foreign providers will face no such requirements, he said.

Sponsored Law

Klishas and Bokova sponsored Russia’s “sovereign internet” law that passed in May and provides for internet traffic to be routed through domestic servers and exchanges, a measure critics say makes it easier for the authorities to block content. Putin signed laws in March to punish online media and individuals for spreading “fake news” or material that insults Russian officials.

Provisions of the so-called “Yarovaya Law” took effect last year, requiring communications carriers to store records of users’ phone calls and internet history for up to six months. Russia’s communications watchdog warned last month that it’s seeking powers to sharply increase fines for foreign companies including Twitter and Facebook Inc. if they fail to comply with demands to move data storage to domestic servers.

The latest proposal “will be difficult to implement,” because email is an open system, said Karen Kazaryan, an analyst at the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, an internet lobby group. “A user can send a message at random, using any server. If it was possible to regulate emails, there would’ve been no spamming and phishing globally.”

Russia faced a wave of false bomb threats earlier this year, often sent by email, that targeted schools, hospitals, offices and shopping centers, according to the state-run Tass news service.

(Updates with threat of fines in seventh paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ilya Khrennikov in Moscow at ikhrennikov@bloomberg.net

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