Russian civil servants must stop using US messaging services at work - communications minister

Annual extended meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media at the International Multimedia Press Center of the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. © Alexander Natruskin
All state agencies’ employees must immediately stop using services like Google, Yahoo or WhatsApp for work-related communications, Nikolay Nikiforov says, clarifying that the restrictions don’t apply to free time or personal purposes.

This definitely should not be allowed for working correspondence. We live in a free country and for their personal purposes they can use whatever they want, but once they start exchanging some information marked ‘for official use’ this becomes unacceptable,” the communications minister said in an interview with Russia-24 television when asked about his attitude to recent proposals to restrict the use of foreign-made software over fears of eavesdropping and data loss.

Earlier this month, head of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev blasted various regional officials for using Google and Yahoo email, as well as the WhatsApp messenger service, for work-related purposes and told governors to take measures for further prevention of such incidents. Patrushev also said that the foreign-made software posed a system threat to the national information security.

READ MORE: 'Ban Apple!' MP warns lawmakers iPhones can be bugged

Last year a lower house MP representing parliamentary majority party United Russia proposed mandatory certification for all communication devices used in state structures, claiming it would offer additional protection against eavesdropping programs such as those revealed by Edward Snowden.

“We should think about whether our nation needs this information striptease. The total fondness for social networks, the posting of personal data and comments on various events by top officials damage our country’s image and economy,” Vladimir Gutenyov said in press comments.

In mid-2013, MP Ilya Kostunov (United Russia) sent letters to the heads of the Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service and the Communications Ministry suggesting they immediately limit civil servants’ access to the popular US internet services and social networks, such as Gmail and Facebook, and sometimes also hardware devices produced by US companies. He also suggested that violators of the ban should be tried for high treason, which in Russia carries punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

READ MORE: End ‘information striptease’ by certifying communication devices - MP

In late 2014, popular Russian daily Izvestia quoted an unnamed source in the Defense Ministry as saying that the military has banned the use of iPhones by its servicemen to prevent information leaks. The ministry denied Izvestia’s report almost immediately, but said that during important missions servicemen are banned from using any civilian communication devices.