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Date: 2000-11-28

RU: Ein Provinzprovider gegen SORM

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Background zu diesem Bericht des Wall Street Journal:

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Mon, 27 Nov 2000 12:59:32 -0500 relayed by Marc Rotenberg

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The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition -- November 27,
2000 Tech Center

Russian ISP Defends Privacy Rights, Challenges
Government Snooping



VOLGOGRAD, Russia -- Nail Murzakhanov would much
rather talk gigabytes than human rights. A self-confessed
computer nut, he has little time for politics. But that changes
when you ask him about spying on the Internet.

"Next thing they'll be asking for a spare set of keys to our
apartments," he fumes. "They want to control anyone,
wherever and whenever they want."

Despite his unassuming demeanor, Nail Murzakhanov is a
folk hero in Russian high-tech circles. As head of a tiny
Internet-service provider in this southern city, he was the first
person ever to challenge the government's right to eavesdrop
on private e-mail correspondence. Perhaps more impressive,
the government backed down.

"They wanted me to let them snoop on people, without any
outside checks or controls," says the 34-year-old head of
Bayard Slavia Communications. "But I sign a confidentiality
agreement with my customers, and I won't violate that for

The object of Mr. Murzakhanov's wrath is the system for
operative-investigative measures, or SORM. Based on a 1995
law, it gives Russian security services -- among them the
FSB domestic intelligence agency -- the right to tap phones,
read postal correspondence and intercept e-mail. Police say
it's a vital weapon in the fight against crime. Civil-rights
campaigners say it's a snooper's charter, the first step on the
road to a Big Brother-style police state.

SORM's supporters like to cite laws in the West, such as
Britain's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which sets
down the rules police must follow when they monitor e-mail
and tap phones, or the U.S. National Security Agency's
Echelon project. Also in the U.S., the Federal Bureau of
Investigation has had a hard time trying to sell its
controversial Carnivore Internet-surveillance software to

But SORM differs from RIP, Carnivore and Echelon in one
crucial respect. Russian law requires Internet service
providers to integrate surveillance equipment into their own
systems -- and do so at their own expense. Mr. Murzakhanov
says the FSB told him he would have to buy the SORM
hardware and install cables connecting it to the local FSB
headquarters -- and train FSB personnel how to use it. He
says it would have cost up to $100,000 to set up -- enough to
drive him out of business.

The debate about SORM goes to the heart of liberals' fears
about President Vladimir Putin, a former spy who came to
power last March promising to create a "dictatorship of law."
SORM wasn't his initiative; nonetheless, liberals see it as
symptomatic of an administration in which former KGB
officers are playing an increasingly active role.

That's why the ministry's backing down in the Murzakhanov
case is viewed as significant by many in Net circles. If a
small provincial ISP -- with only 1,420 subscribers and a staff
of six -- operating out of the corner of a Volgograd electrical
goods shop can fight SORM, then maybe others can, too. "It
shows you can challenge the authorities and not only survive
but win," says Anatoly Levenchuk, head of Moscow-based
human-rights group Liberatarium.

SORM Storm

A summary of Russian state actions

Russia passed a law on "operative-investigative activity"
(SORM) in August 1995, giving the state the right, among
others, to control postal, telegraph and other
communications, wiretap phones and intercept information
from technical communication channels.

In July 2000, the Ministry of Communications issued
order No. 130, stating that the technical means allowing for
operative-investigative measures must be installed at
electronic telephone exchanges, and at switching centers for
mobile and wireless communications and paging services.

In August 2000, the Ministry of Communications dropped
all claims against Bayard Slavia Communications and
withdrew the threat to revoke its license.

Under SORM's provisions, ISPs and telephone operators are
mandated to install a kind of black box that reroutes traffic to
the headquarters of local law-enforcement agencies, allowing
them to listen in on phone or e-mail conversation. Those that
refuse can lose their licenses.

In theory, the authorities require a court warrant to read a
criminal suspect's e-mail. But critics of SORM say judicial
oversight of Russia's security services is so weak that there's
no guarantee they'll always ask first -- especially if the
information they want is just a click away.

Police counter that without this kind of clout they're
powerless to deal with Russia's newest scourge -- high-tech
crime. Russia's hackers are gaining a reputation as perhaps
the most talented in cyberspace -- especially after Microsoft
Corp. disclosed that passwords used to access its source
code had been sent to an e-mail address in St. Petersburg.
Low-tech, low-paid Russian policemen are ill-equipped to
deal with these problems.

Anatoly Stolbikhin, a police lieutenant-colonel and head of a
regional computer-crime department, says the ISPs are on
their side. "The kind of people we investigate are hackers
illegally using other people's passwords or credit-card
details," he says. "These are crimes that can severely
damage a provider's commercial interests."

Mr. Murzakhanov says he was first asked to install SORM by
the Volgograd branch of the FSB domestic intelligence
agency a month after Bayard Slavia Communications began
operations in January 1998. He says he told the FSB that he
would be quite happy to cooperate on a case-by-case basis,
and only if the FSB showed him a court order confirming that
a given subscriber was under criminal investigation. He says
the agents refused, and told him that they never tell anyone
whom they are investigating.

According to Mr. Murzakhanov, the FSB referred to Bayard
Slavia's license, which says a provider must assist law-
enforcement agencies in carrying out "operative-investigative
measures". But Mr. Murzakhanov says he cited another
clause of the license that makes any disclosure of a client's
personal data a criminal act. He refused to sign.

The authorities went on the offensive in April last year,
switching off Bayard Slavia's satellite dish, which forced it out
of business for two months, according to Mr. Murzakhanov.
Then in November, the Communications Ministry threatened
to revoke his license unless he complied with the FSB. The
businessman responded by taking the ministry to court.

A session of the Moscow Arbitration Court was scheduled for
Aug. 21, 2000, but a week before it met, Mr. Murzakhanov
received a letter from the ministry saying it had dropped its
claims against Bayard Slavia and canceled its threat to
withdraw the license.

"We realized that we just didn't have the necessary
legislation in place to proceed," said Sergei Grigorenko, a
ministry spokesman. The case was closed, and since then,
Bayard Slavia has been left in peace. Mr. Grigorenko didn't
rule out the possibility of pursuing the ministry's case against
Bayard Slavia further once additional laws have been passed.

Mr. Murzakhanov says the FSB is fooling itself if it really
thinks it can monitor all e-mail correspondence in Russia.
"Internet traffic is doubling every month," he says. "You need
a hundred highly qualified people, well-versed in
cryptography, to monitor just 10,000 subscribers."

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World-Information Forum
24 11 2000 Technisches Museum Wien
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published on: 2000-11-28
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