Home / Gadgets / Putin’s New Gadget Ban: Another Warning Sign For Russia – Forbes

Putin’s New Gadget Ban: Another Warning Sign For Russia – Forbes

Russia has now passed a law banning mainstream consumer gadgets—including phones and computers—that do not come preinstalled with Russian software. The bill has been sold to the country as a means to “provide domestic companies with legal mechanisms to promote their programs for Russian users.” But that’s not what it’s about at all. Just as with the new Sovereign Internet law to provide a cutoff from the world wide web, this about control, surveillance and geopolitics.

The gadget law itself comes into effect next July, its intent, explained one of the politicians behind the bill, is to prevent Western dominance of tech sold inside the country. “When we buy complex electronic devices, they already have individual applications, mostly Western ones, pre-installed,” Oleg Nikolayev said, leading citizens to think “there are no domestic alternatives available—[now] we will also offer the Russian ones to users, then they will have a right to choose.” Some tech simply cannot carry Russian software—the fear is that those companies will simply write off the market and withdraw products from sale.

For any government to mandate software on consumer devices carries risk. And there is now speculation that some of that software could carry nasty surprises—essentially government mandated surveillance backdoors. This is not particularly surprising. Russian citizens are more inured to surveillance than westerners—it goes with the territory. But what we are seeing now is the potential integration of mass surveillance into the common internet infrastructure. And that is a frightening shift.

We saw the same debate with the Sovereign Internet law, which was signed into law in May and went live earlier this month. The required technology deployed within the country’s internet access points is ostensibly to effect a switch from the global DNS system to a domestic alternative, but offers the potential for deep packet inspection within the internet to essentially simplify state surveilance.

The Sovereign Internet was also promoted on a Russia-First ticket—to defend the country from “threats to the stability, security and integrity of the functioning of the internet and the public communications network,” in other words a cyberattack by the the U.S., its allies or its proxies. Similarly, when Putin argued for a Russian alternative to Wikipedia, it was to protect Russia’s culture and language, to provide a more “reliable”alternative to Western-run global standards. Freedom On The Net warns that Russian internet freedoms are retrenching year on year. It’s hard to argue.

And so to the geopolitics. Putin met China’s President Xi Jinping at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, a meeting that was said to strengthen the “strategic relationship” between the two countries. Putin used the same event to warn over the implications of the U.S. crackdown on Chinese technology, “in some circles,” he said, “it is called the first technological war of the coming digital era.” As I’ve written before, Russia’s president is looking on enviously as the level of control China is able to exert over its internet and domestic technology industry.

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