700 gigabytes leaked: Russian internet surveillance by Roskomnadzor exposed

Data from a regional office of the “media regulator” Roskomnadzor reveal how far online surveillance in Russia goes – and how much manual work it is.

(Image: New York Times)

The Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor has developed into an extension of the domestic secret service FSB and controls the Internet meticulously by hand. This is suggested by leaked documents from a branch of the authority in the Republic of Bashkortostan, which the New York Times evaluated.

The 700 gigabytes of data from DDoSecrets show that the “sleepy telecommunications regulator” has developed into a “full-fledged secret service” that extensively monitors the Internet and social networks. Many reports did not go to local authorities at all, but directly to the FSB. Also noticeable is a real obsession with the well-known opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Using the fate of individuals, the New York Times makes it clear how fragmented the surveillance is. In January 2021, for example, a student media organization published a video calling for criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly thereafter, Roskomnadzor announced that the film had been added to a list of “prohibited information”.

The video was taken offline as requested, but the organization has filed a lawsuit. As a result, in April 2021, the police stormed the premises of the organization and the apartments of employees in a coordinated action. House arrest and internet blocking were imposed on them.

However, the site remained online until the Russian attack on Ukraine. When a “guideline for talking about the war in the family and at work” was published there, Roskomnadzor immediately had all pages of the organization blocked. Ilia Sagitov, one of the organization’s reporters, sees this as no evidence of more competence at the supervisory authority, “just a greater degree of repression – digital and in the real world”: “I thought I knew what censorship was, but it Turns out that wasn’t the case.” “Well, now I know,” the US newspaper quoted him as saying.

The data also shows how local Roskomnadzor employees responded to a lone woman protesting the Russian attack on Ukraine in late February, the New York Times writes. Social media posts about this and the reactions below were compiled and the woman’s arrest was laconically reported. A continuously updated dossier was even written via a local news site critical of the government. Companies in the region have been urged not to advertise on the site.

The summaries of the situation on the Internet sometimes sound like weather reports. After a high-profile arrest, it was said that the situation was “calm, with a few small areas of tension.” The work on the screen has meanwhile been precisely logged, for example with screenshots that show when contributions have been checked. Sometimes the employees even recorded their screen, for example when watching a rap video. In a self-recorded video, two employees joke about accidentally blocking the Kremlin’s site.

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