Russia revives draft law to grant police access to citizens' geolocation data

FILE PHOTO: People participate in a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has revived a draft proposal allowing law enforcement to access citizens' mobile location data without a court order, according to a document seen by Reuters, a move that comes amid nationwide protests in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Thousands of protesters have been held during recent weekend rallies and more than 1,000 people were detained in Moscow on Tuesday after a court sentenced Navalny to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him.

The law, first put before parliament in 2019 and now updated by the digital development ministry, makes it easier to search for missing people, according to the draft.

The ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment as to whether the return of the bill was in any way linked to the protests, and the bill itself makes no mention of them.

The new draft of the law clarifies that a citizen's consent or a court order would be needed for authorities to access the content of messages or conversations but not for geolocation data, which would only be provided by the telecom operators' own equipment. The ministry said the proposal breached no privacy rules.

"The bill complies with legislation on personal data because geolocation coordinates are not personal data," Oleg Ivanov, deputy digital development minister, told Reuters.

The ministry is yet to hear back from other domestic state institutions, a required step before the draft can be resubmitted to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Should the law be passed, law enforcement agencies would easily be able to trace who a particular person was with, at what time and for how long, said Artem Kozlyuk, head of Roskomsvoboda, a website monitoring internet freedom Russia.

"It also creates the risk of people's data being leaked on the black market," he added.

(Reporting by Nadezhda Tsydenova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Alexandra Hudson)

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