In an echo of the move by governments including India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ban the use of certain encrypted Blackberry services last year, the Russian Federal Security Service have cited Skype, Gmail and Hotmail as a “threat to national security” and has suggested a ban.
According to a release from ITAR-TASS, head of the FSB Information and Special Communication Centre, Alexander Andreyechkin stated:
“Uncontrollable use of such services can create a major threat to Russia’s security”.
Andreyechkin reportedly went on to argue that, because the servers and encryption technology used all reside outside Russia it creates difficulty in carrying out investigations, asserting that these services are often used by “foreign extremists”.
The remarks, made before a government Communication & Technology committee meeting, which subsequently continued without press presence, appear to have cause a certain amount of confusion in the Kremlin. Dimitry Peskov, press secretary to Vladimir Putin confirmed that this opinion represented the official position of the FSB, saying “FSB representatives don’t express personal points of view.
Naturally, that was the position of the agency“. Whereas Russian Communications minister Igor Shchegolev stated “We have no plans to cancel or close Skype, gmail, hotmail or any other foreign internet services in Russia“, adding perhaps a little more worryingly, “We are now discussing how to regulate such technologies, including economically.“
The main cause of concern for the FSB seems to be in the encryption employed by these services and the aim appears to be either to deny access to services such as these, or to use the threat of such a ban in order to open negotiations to improve the access of Russian security services to encrypted information.
The countries that threatened a ban on Blackberry use reached an agreement with RIM, the Blackberry manufacturer, that allowed usage to continue uninterrupted, details of this compromise have never been revealed.
Vladimir Putin is currently heading a committee, set up by the Communication & Technology commission, charged with setting out a plan to regulate the mass use of internet encryption technology within Russia. The committee is due to report on October the 1st of this year. Watch this space…