According to the data provided by the judicial department of the Supreme Court of Russia, legal enforcement agencies have submitted 436,800 petitions for breaching the confidentiality of correspondence in 2017. 99.68% of them were upheld.
It is important to understand that LEAs tracked messages and intercepted phone calls in the course of so called “investigating activities.” In these cases, officers obviously violated the 23rd Article of the Constitution, which states that “everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications. The confidentiality of correspondence can be breached only in accordance with a court’s decision”. And what is even more significant – 99.68% of such violations received an approval in court.
Officers of Russian law enforcement agencies have taken an increasing interest in text messages, while wiretapping lost its value. The number of requests for monitoring and recording phone calls decreased by more than half in comparison with the last year – from 103,500 to 44,200. Security forces got judicial authorization in 97.3% of cases. At the same time the number of appeals to provide information on connections between callers has increased – from 40,000 to 108,000.
Alexander Baryaev, a legal adviser, explained that “the information acquired during the investigating activities might serve as grounds for the institution of criminal proceedings.” This method is commonly used to solve drug trafficking crimes. According to his words, a “reduced number of requests for wiretapping during an investigation refers to the fact, that a person is unlikely to be frank on the phone” and “an operator’s response to a request to provide information on connections between callers can confirm or shutdown the accused person’s alibi.”
Deputy of the State Duma (former police officer) Adalbi Shagoshev considers that the change is connected with “an increased effectiveness of investigating authorities” and also “reducing popularity of phone calls; most Russians communicate with the help of messengers and social networks”.
Anatoly Vyborny, Deputy Head of the State Duma Security Committee, thinks that “the change in ratio of requests, correlates with awareness of citizens about security agencies work.”
According to a sociological survey conducted by the international consulting company “Deloitte”, Russians tend to use messengers more frequently than SMS. Over 2,000 people were interviewed, and almost 60% of them stopped sending SMS messages. Experts say: “Almost 60% of interviewees use smartphones for access to social networks and e-mail at least once a week. 50% of respondents use messengers not less than once a week.” Furthermore, the collected data proves that people give preference to text messages instead of phone calls.
Back in 2015 MTS (mobile operator) recorded a sharp increase in the use of messengers, primarily WhatsApp and Viber, among corporate clients. The most commonly used messengers were: Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, VK Messenger, Hangouts and ICQ. In November 2017, traffic generated by social networks grew 6 times compared to July. The most popular social networks are (in descending order): Vkontakte, Instagram, Odnoklassniki, Facebook, Twitter.
Russians rapidly switch from “classical” phone calls to messengers and social networks supposing that they can provide increased privacy security. Recent legislative activity of Russian authorities can be described as “tightening the screws” and “total surveillance is implemented”. At the same time men enhance digital skills – they give preference to protected means of communication. That is why the latest laws were adopted with the aim to regulate messengers, anonymizers, Tor Browser and VPN services. The government is well aware of opportunities to control citizens, but enactment of legislation has not produced desired results.
Although the context is not as grave as it may seem. A bill to establish the right to appeal investigation activities is under consideration. Authors of this initiative suggest the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Security Services to draft appropriate amendments related to the law on police operations. The reason for the review of current legislation was the decision of European Court of Human Rights. The European Court agreed with the right of LEAs to carry out secret operations without notifying a person, but an accused should have the right to appeal actions against his privacy.
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