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Criminalizing information A new law could deal a huge blow to investigative journalism in Russia

Source: Meduza

A group of Russian lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party have introduced a bill to the Russian State Duma that would increase the punishment for leaking personal data and criminalize the use of such data. While the new bill doesn’t specifically mention journalists, it does ban the media from disseminating a person’s “private information.” There are already several Russian laws against “violating privacy,” including against “unauthorized” access to computer information and personal correspondence, but the new law (an amendment to Article 272 of Russia’s Criminal Code), if adopted, would take precedence over the others and impose harsher penalties.

As independent publication Agenstvo points out, if passed, the bill would deal a huge blow to investigative journalism in Russia. Using information from leaked databases could lead to a 10-year prison sentence. “Analyzing databases is one of the last methods of investigative journalism left at the disposal of Russian journalists,” Agenstvo notes. In recent years, such investigations have led to the disclosure of the identities of the GRU officers who poisoned the Skripal family and the FSB officers who poisoned Alexey Navalny.

The harshest sentences are reserved for those operating as part of an “organized group,” defined as a group with designated roles and responsibilities and a predetermined plan of action. Any journalist receiving instructions from an editorial board could easily fall under this category. Freelancers collaborating on an independent project might be charged as members of “a group acting on prior conspiracy” and face up to six years in prison.

The bill, which was introduced by influential Duma members, is almost certain to pass.

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Cover photo: Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

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