Russia security officers face property, social media bans

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The head of Russia's powerful security service on Thursday backed reforms aimed at "straightening out" its ranks by banning owning property abroad and indiscreet posting on social networking sites.

The FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, has initiated a reform bill that passed in its crucial second reading in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament this week.

"We wanted to straighten out an element of the special services' activity that existed in Soviet times and became somewhat eroded in contemporary Russia," FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told the Interfax news agency.

He stressed that recruits must "consciously agree to limitations on their rights and freedoms".

New recruits and serving staff must not own property outside Russia, the bill says, also allowing the FSB to forbid staff from travelling abroad.

It also calls for a crackdown on revealing personal information in social networking sites.

Staff must not "post in media or on the Internet information (including photos, videos and other information) about themselves or other members of the FSB," in such a way as to reveal the nature of their work, the bill says.

Recruits must undergo fingerprinting, drug and alcohol testing and tests using "technical and other means," the bill says, suggesting the use of lie detectors.

"The FSB reform looks like a large-scale purge," the Nezavismaya Gazeta daily wrote of the bill.

The service, which still occupies vast headquarters on Moscow's central Lubyanka square, carries out surveillance on domestic threats, but has been blamed for failing to prevent numerous deadly terror attacks.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin served in East Germany as a KGB agent and briefly headed the FSB before he was picked by Boris Yeltsin to be prime minister in 1999.

While far less powerful than in its Soviet heyday, the service has lately sought to expand its remit.

The FSB chief on Thursday also demanded access to codes of cell phone operators in order to monitor communications.

"Any special service needs access to the codes and ciphers of the cell phone operators so as to control certain people if information comes up of their possibly unlawful actions," he said, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

© 2011 AFP

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