How the Russian surveillance state works

In case you (like Edward Snowden) want to know about the full scope of Russia's program of mass domestic and international surveillance, World Policy's overview of the Russian surveillance state is brilliant and terrifying. As Snowden said, "I blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them."

The World Policy report has impeccable credentials, having been jointly researched by Agentura.Ru, CitizenLab, and Privacy International.

Over the last two years, the Kremlin has transformed Russia into a surveillance state—at a level that would have made the Soviet KGB (Committe for State Security) envious. Seven Russian investigative and security agencies have been granted the legal right to intercept phone calls and emails. But it’s the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, that defines interception procedures...

...In Russia, FSB officers are also required to obtain a court order to eavesdrop, but once they have it, they are not required to present it to anybody except their superiors in the FSB. Telecom providers have no right to demand that the FSB show them the warrant. The providers are required to pay for the SORM equipment and its installation, but they are denied access to the surveillance boxes.

The FSB has control centers connected directly to operators’ computer servers. To monitor particular phone conversations or Internet communications, an FSB agent only has to enter a command into the control center located in the local FSB headquarters. This system is replicated across the country. In every Russian town, there are protected underground cables, which connect the local FSB bureau with all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom providers in the region. That system, or SORM, is a holdover from the country’s Soviet past and was developed by a KGB research institute in the mid-1980s. Recent technological advances have only updated the system. Now, the SORM-1 system captures telephone and mobile phone communications, SORM-2 intercepts Internet traffic, and SORM-3 collects information from all forms of communication, providing long-term storage of all information and data on subscribers, including actual recordings and locations.

Russia's Surveillance State [Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan/World Policy]

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