Duma mulls special code for civil servants’ web activities

© Vladimir Fedorenko
Russian lawmakers have prepared and submitted to the parliament a set of amendments to the laws on the civil service, demanding that officials on all levels follow certain rules while using social networks and the internet in general.

The bill was drafted jointly by representatives of parliamentary majority party United Russia and the nationalist LDPR. One of its key sponsors, MP Andrey Lugovoy, said in press comments that if the motion is passed any contenders spreading any information that could negatively affect the image of the Russian state, government or state bodies would be a sufficient reason to turn down an application for an official position. The bill orders that any contenders for official posts submit links to their social networks along with their resumes during regular job applications, and also that all civil servants make obligatory annual reports of their internet activities to human resources’ departments of the agencies where they work.

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The authors of the draft emphasized in their explanatory note that the rules should only apply to public web posts and not to private correspondence.

The bill does not contain any universal rules for all civil servants but it orders that human resources’ departments of various state agencies develop separate rules and brief the workers about them. Applicants for official positions whose behavior on the internet does not match the officially introduced standards can be refused the place and those who already work in state bodies but violate the social networks code can be fired “due to the loss of trust” – the formula that eliminates the possibility to get state employment in future.

The sponsors of the motion claim that their initiative would contribute to transparency in the civil service and boost the prestige of such work. They also noted in press explanation that the new practice could ensure higher morals among civil servants and bring down the risk of corruption. Besides, the bill is following the recommendations of the UN Convention on Countering Corruption to install some systems that would allow officials to inform control bodies of their out-of-work activities in the light of possible conflict of interests.

MP Vladimir Burmatov, of United Russia, told Izvestia daily that similar or even tougher rules already exist in many countries, with the United States being one of the most vivid examples. “In the United States, not only state structures but even private companies often ask for access to their workers’ social networks accounts, they want to monitor what is going on inside. We don’t have such proposals, I think this norm to be excessive,” the lawmaker said.

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Presently, Russian laws only restrict web posts calling for extremism, and regulate blogs and social networks accounts that are defined as “popular” – this means pages with 3,000 or more unique visitors per day. Such pages face the same rules as regular mass media – their authors have to register with the state watchdog Roskomnadzor, disclose their real identity and follow the same rules as journalists working in conventional state-registered mass media. The restrictions include the demand to verify information before publishing it and abstain from releasing reports containing slander, hate speech, extremist calls or other banned information such as, for example, advice on suicide. Also, the law bans popular bloggers from using obscene language.