Russian Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Force IT Giants To Establish Local Branches

A group of Russian lawmakers has introduced a bill to parliament that would require foreign IT companies to set up local units or face penalties, including a possible ban, as Moscow continues to tighten its control over the flow of information on the Internet.

The bill, presented to parliament on May 21, comes as the Internet rapidly gains clout in Russia, offering a vehicle to challenge the Kremlin narrative and prompting President Vladimir Putin to turn his sights on social-media companies.

In 2019, Russia passed a “sovereign Internet” law that gives officials wide-ranging powers to restrict online traffic, up to the point of isolating the country from cross-border Internet connections during national emergencies.

Aleksandr Khinshtein, the head of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy and one of the authors of the bill, said the legislation is primarily about the cross-border transfer of personal data.

The legislation obliges foreign IT companies with a daily traffic count in Russia of 500,000 or more to establish full-fledged branches that would take responsibility for violations of Russian law and interact with government agencies.

If the foreign entity refuses to comply, they would face penalties including a ban on advertising their services, a ban on collecting payments, or partial or full blockage of their services in the country, Khinshtein said.

Lawmaker Anton Gorelkin, who is a member of the information policy committee, said in a post on Telegram that he expected the legislation would make tech giants more attentive to Russian demands.

“With the emergence of the necessary regulatory framework, interaction should improve,” Gorelkin wrote.

Moscow has repeatedly warned that it is ready to use the “sovereign Internet” law if unrest were to reach a serious scale.

In January and early February, a series of massive anti-government rallies actively promoted on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, the Chinese video app that played an outsize role in hosting content by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, ushered in an intensified push to fine-tune what appears online in Russia.

Russia has been punitively impeding the speed of Twitter since March and has warned other tech platforms, including YouTube, over failing to delete content it deems illegal.

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