Putin targets US social media giants, protests with new laws

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday signed an array of laws handing the country new powers to restrict United States social media giants, label individuals "foreign agents", and crack down on the disclosure of its security officers' personal data.

The laws, which also introduce new restrictions for protests, cap a year of constitutional reforms allowing Mr Putin, 68, to stand for two more six-year terms in the Kremlin instead of stepping down in 2024 as he had been legally required to do.

Other reforms such as one granting former presidents lifelong immunity from prosecution have kept analysts guessing about his plans as Moscow's ties with the West have come under new strain over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

One of the laws enables Russia to block or restrict access to sites that "discriminate" against its media, part of a campaign under Mr Putin to increase Russia's Internet "sovereignty".

Twitter currently labels some Russian media "state-affiliated media", a move decried by Moscow. The law's backers cited complaints of prejudice shown by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

A second law introduces hefty fines of up to 20 per cent of Russia-based turnover for sites that repeatedly fail to remove banned content, something YouTube and Facebook have often failed to do.

A third law prohibits the disclosure of the personal data of Russian security officials, records that are sometimes leaked online and have been used by journalists to track clandestine operations.

Investigative website Bellingcat this month used flight records and other data to identify a group of alleged Federal Security Service agents whom Mr Navalny has accused of trying to poison him, an allegation denied by Moscow.

Other new laws introduced jail sentences of up to two years for slander online, as well as new rules that ban the funding of protests by "foreign agents" and allow rallies to be banned due to emergencies.

Another law granted new powers to label individuals as "foreign agents" and jail them for five years if they fail to report their activities correctly.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'Putin targets US social media giants, protests with new laws'. Print Edition | Subscribe