Surveillance of communications

In January the Russian government authorised SORM-2, "System for Operational-Investigative Activities". Under SORM-1 the Federal Security Bureau (FSB, the successor to the KGB) was required to obtain a warrant before obtaining data from service providers. Under the SORM-2 regulation all Internet service providers (ISPs) are required to install a "box", rerouting device, and a high speed communications line to hot-wire the provider to FSB headquarters. A warrant from a court is still needed for agencies to read any of the contents of the messages - though human rights groups suspect this may be by-passed. The FSB says SORM will help law enforcement agencies track down and catch criminals ranging from "tax evaders to paedophiles".

The 1995 Law on Operational Investigations gave the FSB powers to monitor all communications, post and telecommunications (mobile phones, e-mails and faxes) after first obtaining a warrant from a court.

An amendment to the 1995 Law on Operational Investigations signed on 5 January means that not only the FSB but also the tax authorities, Interior Ministry police, parliamentary and presidential security forces, customs and border police are to be given access to all use of the Internet.

While the arguments are the same the proposed UK R.I.P. Bill does not go this far. But perhaps it should be remembered that the EU, including the UK, adopted a set of "Requirements" to be placed on service providers in January 1995 (without any democratic debate). These say that: "Law enforcement agencies require access to the entire telecommunication transmitted.. Law enforcement agencies also require access to call-associated data that are generated to process the call" (Requirement 1.) "Law enforcement agencies require, full-time monitoring capability for the interception of telecommunications.." (Requirement 2.) "Law enforcement agencies require network operators/service providers to provide one or several interfaces from which the intercepted communications can be transmitted to the law enforcement monitoring facility.." (Requirement 3.).

SORM-2 and the EU

SORM-2 allows the automatic transmission of all communications to the law enforcement agencies. Under the "Requirements" adopted by the EU the transmission of data to law enforcement agencies requires an "interception order" to be authorised by a "legally authorised body" (a court or agency official depending on national laws). But the legal test for authorising an interception order varies from country to country. In some it is strictly limited to "serious crime" in others this is extended to "crime" and "disorder". The draft Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (which includes controversial sections on interception and covert operations) being discussed by the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council covers any crime "however minor".

There are differences between SORM-2, the EU plans and the R.I.P.Bill. In Russia all communications are monitored. In the EU some are monitored depending on whether a person or group has been targeted for surveillance.

R.I.P.Bill Overview

R.I.P. Bill: Analysis section by section

Telephone-tapping and mail-opening figures, 1937-1998