Surveillance Fears as Russia Proposes New App Law

The Russian parliament is pushing through proposed legislation that would force PCs and mobile devices to be sold with pre-installed domestic applications, raising security concerns.

The bill is being touted by lawmakers as protecting the local technology market from foreign, presumably US, competition.

“The initiative provides domestic companies with legal mechanisms to promote their programs for Russian users,” the Duma said.

However, there could potentially be more sinister implications.

If the mandated pre-installed apps come loaded with backdoors and/or other secret functionality, they could provide security services with an opportunity to spy on the populace, for example. The government ultimately decides which apps must be installed on users’ devices.

The law may also support the Putin regime’s push for internet sovereignty.

The country has been moving towards a China model for some time, and recently passed legislation which would allow the government to filter traffic from outside Russia, potentially even cutting access to foreign servers during times of geopolitical crisis.

“Now the government can directly censor content or even turn Russia’s internet into a closed system without telling the public what they are doing or why,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This jeopardizes the right of people in Russia to free speech and freedom of information online.”

The proposed new law relating to domestic apps could apply to virtually all computing devices capable of running applications, including smartphones, desktop PCs, tablets, laptops and even smart TVs.

It has the backing of all major political parties, meaning that it should become law next year.

Although companies that don’t comply face a fine, it currently stands at just 200,000 rubles ($3100). That said, if they repeatedly refuse the comply with the legislation, they could be banned outright from providing devices.

Some reports have suggested Apple could leave the country if forced to expose its customers to such security and privacy risks.

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