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Russia blocks LinkedIn

November 17, 2016

Russia's communications regulator has ordered the country's internet providers to block access to LinkedIn's website, after a court ruling has found the social networking firm guilty of violating a data storage law.

Deutschland Online-Netzwerk LinkedIn Logo
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor announced Thursday the professional networking site had been added to a register of violators and submitted for blocking by internet operators. 

The ban comes after a Moscow court last week rejected an appeal and upheld an August decision that LinkedIn broke a controversial new law that requires personal data of Russian users to be stored in the country. The ruling also told LinkedIn to stop giving users' data to third parties without informing them.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft and based in the United States, is the first major social network to be blocked by Russian authorities. It has over 6 million registered users in Russia.

In a statement to the news agency AFP, the social network said it was starting to hear from members in Russia that they can no longer access LinkedIn. "We remain interested in a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localization request," the statement added.

The Kremlin said that the decision was "in strict accordance with the law" and that President Vladimir Putin did not plan to interfere in the case. When asked whether the move might stir fears of online censorship, government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were "no such concerns."

Internet crackdown or fear of espionage?

A Russian law passed in 2014 requires foreign messaging services, search engines and social networking sites that store the personal data of Russian citizens to do so on Russian servers. Sites that breach the law are added to a blacklist and internet providers are obliged to block access.

The law prompted a storm of criticism from internet companies but entered into force in September 2015. LinkedIn is the first such service to be taken to court under the law.

Leonid Volkov, opposition activist and founder of an NGO called Society for the Defense of the Internet, called the current standoff "a new page" in Russia's treatment of the web. "Roskomnadzor has never before had a mandate to directly confront IT giants," he wrote on Facebook.

Roskomnadzor's spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky told the Russian news agency Interfax that representatives of LinkedIn had requested to meet with officials from the agency and that senior staff were settling a date. And Putin's advisor on the internet German Klimenko told Rossiya-24 television he expected that "LinkedIn will meet the conditions and will be unblocked." He also suggested that the law on personal data may need to be "clarified" or "amendments will be submitted."

uhe/jd (Reuters, AFP, dpa)