By Gail Crawford, Ksenia Koroleva, and Andrea StoutMoscow

The State Duma, Russia’s lower chamber of Parliament, has adopted amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection of the Russian Federation (the Law) in its first reading. Under the proposed amendments, messaging apps would be required, among other things, to verify users through their telephone numbers and to distribute certain text messages at the request of government agencies. The amendments would also allow the Russian government to block messaging apps which continue to allow users to register anonymously.

The proposed amendments still have to go through the remaining stages of the legislative process, including two further readings in the State Duma, approval by the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) and signing by the President. Amendments are still possible during these later stages. If adopted, the amendments will come into force on 1 January 2018. By broadly defining both “information and communication service” and “instant messaging information and communication service,” the amended Law imposes new obligations on all messaging applications and operators. Under the amended Law, messaging apps would be required to:

• Transmit only those messages which are sent by identified users

• Ensure the confidentiality of messages

• Provide users with the technical capability to block messages sent by other users

• Distribute messages from state authorities upon request

• Restrict mass messages and the transmission of messages that are illegal in nature, such as those which encourage non-sanctioned gatherings or meetings

With respect to the requirement that users must be identifiable, messaging apps would be obliged to conclude agreements, a standard form of which is to be approved by the Russian government, with telecom operators in order to verify users’ identities. This is because legislators believe that SIM cards issued to users by telecom operators provide an adequate user identification process as identification details (e.g. passport or military ID) must be disclosed to obtain a SIM card.

In the event of non-compliance, telecom operators would be ordered to restrict access to the messaging platform by the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (otherwise known as the Roskomnadzor). This order would be determined on the basis of a court decision.

If the amended Law becomes effective next year, Russia would be one of the first nations to regulate instant messaging services.