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Russian leader Putin unleashes KGB on the Web

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The Internet will soon enable Russia to make a nostalgic return to its bad old days of official paranoia and general neurosis, as the state security apparatus has recently plugged itself into the Internet with a free hand to monitor virtually all electronic communications, the Moscow Times reports. Political blackmail and industrial espionage will undoubtedly feature heavily in the new online regime of strong-arm leader Vladimir Putin, a well-known former KGB spook. Russians are taking it with characteristic cynicism and gallows humour. "The whole Federal Security Service will be crying tomorrow over your love letters," huffs one banner Russian Webmasters have published. Moscow Times sources claim that Putin's goons have already compelled a large number of the country's Internet service providers to install monitoring software and equipment. The KGB, now named the Federal Security Service, needs a Web monitoring capability to thwart organised crime rings, terrorist organisations, child pornographers, and every other manner of very naughty person, it maintains. But the Russian securocrat establishment long ago established itself as a body obsessed with paranoid campaigns to gather incriminating evidence against influential politicians, civil servants and businessmen to be used as needed to bolster state control. "Security organs and special forces have the right -- and now the capability -- to monitor private correspondence and telephone conversations of individual citizens according to the law," the Moscow Times quoted a state official as saying. Monitoring citizens "according to the law" is a familiar incantation repeated throughout the world whenever a security organisation seeks expanded powers to snoop on the populace. But without clear, statutory limitations on the state's intrusive powers, and clearly articulated rights of privacy for citizens, such appeals all but guarantee abuse. Russia, like China, has of course no such statutory protections in place. There may yet be cause for optimism, however. Perhaps, after a period of ideological struggle, greed will eventually win out in this case, as it also might do in the recent Chinese demand that cryptographic keys be surrendered to state officials. Both governments are celebrated for their paranoia; yet both depend heavily on foreign investment and commerce to satisfy the needs of the populace, and both are characterised by spectacular greed and corruption at all levels of society. Should such Draconian security policies offend the more delicate sensibilities of enlightened foreign investors with extremely large quantities of money to burn, and in so doing threaten economic development, we may yet see a softening of this posture. Assuming, of course, that the lust for wealth can ultimately conquer the lust for control by which both governments live. It may be some time before we get a clear hint which way the wind is blowing, but for now The Register is prepared to take that bet. ®

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