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Russia tightens control over cell phone messenger services

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Russian government has approved regulation aimed at tightening control over popular anonymous messenger services by identifying users through their cell phone numbers.

The rules signed on November 6 by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are the latest Russian measures to clamp down on smartphone messenger services like Telegram that authorities claim have been used by criminals and terrorists.

Mobile phone network operators will be required to confirm the authenticity of a user’-s phone numbers within 20 minutes. If a number cannot be verified, messenger services are required to block users from their platforms.

The Russian government will also require network operators to keep track of which messenger apps their users have registered for. The decree goes into effect after 180 days.

Over the past few years, Russia has adopted legislation aimed at curtailing Internet freedom and limiting data privacy. One of the laws requires mobile phone operators to store data on voice calls and messages for several months. Other legislation allows authorities to target activists by fining and even sending them to prison for social media posts.

In April, Russian authorities sought to block Telegram over its refusal to hand over keys to its data encryption. Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, had refused to share data.

In a battle to cripple Telegram’s operations, the Russian communications watchdog blocked some servers owned by tech giants Google and Amazon, affecting millions of Russian websites.