“Constitutional Law Society NLUO – Lecture on ‘Litigation in Russia on Internet Shutdowns, Facial Recognition and Backdoors Confirmation ’ “.

Constitutional Law Society NLUO – Lecture on ‘Litigation in Russia on Internet Shutdowns, Facial Recognition and Backdoors Confirmation ’

Date: 12th February 2021                                   Platform: Virtual Conferencing (Zoom Meetings)


The Constitutional Law Society of National Law University Odisha, in collaboration with the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), successfully organized the second Lecture as part of its International Law Lecture Series on the topic ‘Litigation in Russia on Internet shutdowns, Facial Recognition and Backdoors Confirmation.’ The lecture was delivered by Mr. Damir Gainutdinov, a Lawyer and Legal analyst for Agora International Human Rights Group. He is the head of the Net Freedoms Project, a part of Agora International Human Rights Group which is focused on defending the freedom of expression and monitoring politically motivated surveillance in Russia.

Mr. Damir Gainutdinov, in his introduction, briefed about the work of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He mentioned that Agora is a network of lawyers, established as an NGO in Russia, focusing on Police torture. Mr. Damir and his colleagues, from the past few years, have started to focus on the freedom of the internet in Russia. He highlighted that Russia is a good example of what could happen to freedom of the Internet. He mentioned that in 2012, the state through a bill tried to curb the freedom of the internet. The state started to threaten the users who tried to share political pieces online. Further emphasizing upon this, in the year 2015, a large number of internet users who were also prosecuted for sharing information and liking posts related to political matters.

The government in Russia also tried to negotiate with companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to change their respective policies in accordance with the Russian Legislation. He mentioned that all the social networks were required to store and share the users’ conversations and media with the Federal Security Services. He further highlighted that in 2016, a list of organisations disseminating information online was created. All the companies which were present in this list were required to obligate with the rules and regulations of the Russian authorities. In 2017, Telegram, a global communication platform was added to the list. Federal Security Service used to send a request to share the information of telegram users. They requested the encryption keys for decoding the information shared among the users. Telegram denied sharing the keys because of which it was even fined 10,000 Euros. Further, the district court in Moscow ordered the ban of the platform in Russia and blocked all the IP addresses used by it.

In May 2018, IP genocide followed under which various IP addresses were blocked.  Mr. Damir and his colleagues raised the issue of balance between Privacy and Security in front of Russian courts. However, courts refused to strike this balance. According to the Court Order, the demand for decryption keys was within the legislative framework of the State. The applications from the people were collected and were filled collectively in front of the European Court of Human Rights. Mr. Damir mentioned that the communication with the EUHR is still pending in this regard.

Moving ahead with the Lecture, Mr. Damir deliberated upon the surveillance technology being used by the government and how the country has the biggest CCTV system with over 12000 CCTV cameras installed in various locations. He mentioned 3 different locations where the government has installed cameras of high-end technology including the entrance door of each city, and buildings ranging from municipal buildings to schools and local authorities. Further, he pointed out that while the government claims that the surveillance technology was first used in FIFA World Cup in 2018 to ensure the safety of the spectators, metal detectors were installed during the legal protest in Moscow before 2018 which also had cameras at eye level, something nobody was aware of. These cameras were used by the government to find people who participated in the protest and detain them. Various activists also raised their voice against the use of city cameras, CCTV cameras, and police cameras in places of protest in Moscow, however, the government rubbished all the claims.  Mr. Damir further explained the order of the European Court of Human Rights in the surveillance case which stated that the case doesn’t only lack a legal framework, but also lacks the principle of proportionality since the use of facial recognition in peaceful assembly of people ensures the safety of people and helps in determining the offenders.

Lastly, Mr. Damir discussed the internet shutdown, one of the major issues faced by Russian citizens. He elaborated on the issue of internet shutdown which was initially claimed as a technical glitch by the telecom operator, however, later on, the telecom operator accepted that the internet was cut off as per the order of the state authority in the name of security and public order as the department telecom authority got some information of a terror attack being planned. When the same was questioned before the domestic court of Russia, the authority denied providing the source of the information citing security reasons. The case was then taken to the European Court of Human Rights where the decision is awaited. Mr. Damir also highlighted the importance of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Anuradha Basin v. UOI 2019 pertaining to the internet shutdown and how the position drawn in the case would have a significant impact on the decision to be delivered by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Lecture was concluded with a vote of thanks given by Olga Cronin with the hope that a balance could be strived between the users’ privacy and security.

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