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Russian court upholds decision to block LinkedIn, citing 'digital sovereignty' law

In August, LinkedIn was found to be violation of a law which requires websites to store the data of their Russian users in local servers.

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    Cars drive past the monument to Vladimir the Great, who brought Christianity to pagan Kievan Rus in the 10th century in downtown Moscow, Russia with the Kremlin at the background on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.
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A Russian court has upheld the decision to block social networking site LinkedIn in the country, reports Russian news agency Interfax.

In August, LinkedIn was found to be violation of a law to support "digital sovereignty," which requires websites to store the data of their Russian users in local servers. A higher court rejected an appeal by the website on Thursday.

Officials say the law, which has never been enforced previously, was designed to protect Russians’ personal data from foreign cyberattacks. But critics say the rule is actually meant to tighten government control over the Russian internet users. Either way, it could change the way foreign websites and online businesses operate within Russia.

The law, which was passed in 2014, requires global internet companies to store the personal data of their Russian users on local servers. Companies must also retain that information for six months, during which time Russian authorities may access it. Noncompliance may result in “administrative penalties” or even a ban from the country.

In 2014, The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir reported:

Critics see the new measures as part of a Kremlin-backed offensive aimed at crushing the last bastions of free speech, and cutting off Russians' remaining connections with the wider world – a charge Moscow supporters say masks the real issue of the West allegedly waging an "information war" to discredit Russian policies.

The Internet data law comes on top of two years of ever-toughening legislation to curb dissent, civil society action, and independent media. Among the fresh wave of laws is one that would limit foreign ownership of any media outlet to 20 percent and a proposal to install a Kremlin-controlled "kill switch" for the Internet, to be employed in the event of crisis.

"This is all part of a campaign to 'cleanse' the Russian Internet of everything objectionable to the authorities," says Mikhail Delyagin, director of the independent Institute of Globalization Problems in Moscow. "It demonstrates that our leaders are scared of free speech."

If Russia decides to enforce the law more strictly going forward, it could have major implications beyond social media. If companies decline to maintain their servers in the country, Russian users may find themselves unable to book flights or use international credit cards. Some experts say Russia could be completely cut off from the global internet if it pushes the law too hard.

“Unfortunately, technology is moving much faster than the ability of legislation and law enforcement to keep up with it,” Andrei Kolesnikov, director of the Coordination Center for Ru.net domains, told the Monitor in 2015.

The heads of Booking.com, an online reservations site, have promised to comply with the law. But many other internet giants, such as Facebook and Google, have yet to specify whether they will transfer the requisite data to Russian servers.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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