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Putin targets U.S. social media, secret agent leaks and protests with new laws

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President Vladimir Putin signed an array of laws on Wednesday, handing Russia new powers to limit U.S. social media giants, label individuals “foreign agents”, and to clamp down on the disclosure of its security officers’ personal data.

New laws

The laws, which also introduce new restrictions for protests, cap a year of constitutional reforms. This will allow Putin, 68, to face 2 more six-year terms within the Kremlin, rather than stepping down in 2024 as he had been legally required to do.

Other reforms like one granting former presidents lifelong immunity from prosecution have kept analysts guessing about his plans as Moscow’s ties with the West have come under new strain over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

One of Wednesday’s laws enables Russia to block or restrict access to sites that “discriminate” against its media, a part of a campaign under Putin to extend Russia’s internet “sovereignty” that has fuelled fears of creeping China-style controls.

Twitter currently labels some Russian media “state-affiliated media”, a move decried by Moscow. The law’s backers cited complaints made about prejudice shown by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

A second law introduces hefty fines of up to 20 of their previous year’s Russia-based turnover for sites that repeatedly fail to get rid of banned content, something that YouTube and Facebook have often didn’t do according to Russian lawmakers.

Whereas a third law prohibits the disclosure of the private data of Russian security officials. Sometimes, the internet can leak records and investigative journalists utilize them to trace clandestine operations.

Earlier this month, investigative website Bellingcat used flight records and other data to spot a bunch of alleged Federal Security Service agents whom Navalny has accused of trying to poison him in August. An allegation denied by Moscow.

Other miscellaneous laws

Other new laws introduced jail sentences of up to 2 years for slander online similar to new regulations. Also, the new regulations may prohibit the funding of protests by “foreign agents”. They may also permit the banning of rallies because of emergencies.

Another law granted authorities new powers to label individuals “foreign agents”. They can also jail them for five years if they fail to report their activities correctly.

 

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