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Russia moves toward alarming new counter-terrorism law

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The lower house of Russia's parliament has passed so-called anti-terrorism legislation that would allow steep prison sentences for dissent, and require ISPs and phone companies to store huge amounts of communications for long periods of time, The Guardian reports. The "Yarovaya law" would also make it a crime not to report information about terrorist attacks and other crimes, require telecoms to assist the government to break into encrypted messages, and increase the strongest penalty for "extremism" from four to eight years of imprisonment, according to The Guardian. Even this bill, which was passed on Friday, is softer than a previous version which would have allowed the government to strip Russians of citizenship.

The bill was reportedly crafted as a response to the bombing of a Russian passenger plane last October, and The Guardian speculates that it will likely be passed by the rest of parliament and eventually signed by President Vladimir Putin. Critics of the law liken it to Soviet-era measures; Tanya Lokshina, a program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the bill "will severely curb people's right to exercise free expression and other fundamental freedoms in Russia." The bill could be used to intimidate dissenters and expand punishments against those critical of the Kremlin; the Russian government has already punished citizens harshly for attending anti-war rallies in recent years through mass arrests and prison sentences for protesters.

The Associated Press reports that Russia's telecommunications providers aren't happy about the new law, which could saddle them with immense new costs for complying with the government's storage demands. The AP says telecoms have claimed that the law would require them to store 100,000 times more data at a cost of more than $33 billion. The latest bill would require the companies to store phone call and message metadata up to one year. Still, those requirements look quaint compared to a long-run program by the US National Security Agency, which automatically collected metadata on millions of phone calls and stored them for five years. And existing US regulations require landline phone providers to store call records for 18 months, and wireless providers hold records for anywhere from one to seven years.