Russian security service wants to ban Skype, Gmail

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The Russian security service has proposed banning Skype, Hotmail and Gmail as their "uncontrolled use" could pose a security threat, a service official said during a government meeting Friday.

The comments from the head of the service's information and special communication centre Alexander Andreyechkin were disowned by the Kremlin but come amid mounting concern over state meddling in the Internet in Russia.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) is "increasingly concerned" by the mass use of these services, which use foreign-made encryption technology, Andreyechkin said, RIA Novosti agency reported.

"Uncontrolled usage of these services may lead to massive threat to Russia's security," he said at a meeting of the government's communication and technology committee.

Control of Internet traffic through these services is done from servers outside Russia, and so they are often used by extremist organizations, Andreyechkin was reported as saying before the meeting continued without the press.

Deputy Minister of Communications Ilya Massukh later said that recommendations regarding regulation of mass usage of encryption technology will be given to the government by October 1.

The FSB would like to ban these services in Russia because "security authorities cannot access them," Massukh was reported as saying.

Russian agencies quoted a Kremlin source later Friday as saying that Andreyechkin's statements are "his own opinion and don't reflect the government's decision regarding development of the Internet."

"Andreyechkin overstepped his authorities and made hasty remarks about these popular services," the source said, RIA Novosti reported. "State policy in the sphere of Internet technology is not set by security services."

His comments came in the same week that the LiveJournal blogging site, hugely popular in Russia, fell victim to cyber-attack that bloggers blamed on the Russian security services.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who prides himself on his use of Twitter and also maintains a LiveJournal weblog, called the attack "outrageous and illegal".

The secretive FSB, which is a successor to the Soviet KGB, has denounced the popular non-Russian Internet services in the past.

Earlier this year a leaked memo from Sverdlovsk regional government asked municipalities to ban Skype for work use and use only Russian programmes for email communication, citing FSB analysis of foreign programmes.

Using security as a pretext to lobby for control of state purchases of communications equipment in Russia has been done in the past, but this is the first time the FSB appears to propose restrictions on a national level, said security analyst Andrei Soldatov.

"This is definitely alarming," he told AFP. Even if they don't actually block access, "the goal may be to bargain with these services to disclose at least partially their encryption technology," so that it is more accessible.

Russian social networking sites like VKontakte.Ru have recently started requiring users to provide their cell phone number in order to register or invite their friends.

Russian security services have wide-reaching powers but remain notoriously closed from any public scrutiny, including of their budget.

© 2011 AFP

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