Changes Impacting Businesses that Process Personal Data in Russia

On July 21, 2014, a new law Federal Law № 242-FZ was adopted in Russia (Database Law) introducing amendments to the existing Federal Law “On personal data” and to the existing Federal Law “On information, information technologies and protection of information.”  The new Database Law requires companies to store and process personal data of Russian nationals in databases located in Russia.  At a minimum, the practical effect of this new Database Law is that companies operating in Russia that collect, receive, store or transmit (“process”) personal data of natural persons in Russia will be required to place servers in Russia if they plan to continue doing business in that market.  This would include, for example, retailers, restaurants, cloud service providers, social networks and those companies operating in the transportation, banking and health care spheres.  Importantly, while Database Law is not scheduled to come into force until September 1, 2016, a new bill was just introduced on September 1, 2014 to move up that date to January 1, 2015.  The transition period is designed to give companies time to adjust to the new Database Law and decide whether to build up local infrastructure in Russia, find a partner having such infrastructure in Russia, or cease processing information of Russian nationals.  If the bill filed on September 1 becomes law, however, that transition period will be substantially shortened and businesses operating in Russia will need to act fast to comply by January 1.

Some mass media in Russia have interpreted provisions of the Database Law as banning the processing of Russian nationals’ personal data abroad.  However, this is not written explicitly into the law and until such opinion is confirmed by the competent Russian authorities, this will continue to be an open question.  There is hope that the lawmakers’ intent was to give a much needed boost to the Russian IT and telecom industry, rather than to prohibit the processing of personal data abroad.  If this hope is confirmed, then so long as companies operating in Russia ensure that they process personal data of Russian nationals in databases physically located in Russia, they also should be able to process this information abroad, subject to compliance with cross-border transfer requirements.  

The other novelty of this new Database Law is that it grants the Russian data protection authority (DPA) the power to block access to information resources that are processing information in breach of Russian laws.  Importantly, the Database Law provides that the blocking authority applies irrespective of the location of the offending company or whether they are registered in Russia.  However, the DPA can initiate the procedure to block access only if there is a respective court judgment.  Based on the court judgment the DPA then will be able to require a hosting provider to undertake steps to eliminate the infringements.  For example, the hosting provider must inform the owner of the information resource that it must eliminate the infringement, or the hosting provider must restrict the owner’s access to the information that is processed with the infringements.  In case of the owner’s refusal or inaction, the hosting provider is obliged to restrict the access to the respective information resource altogether.  If the foregoing steps are not performed by the hosting provider in due course, the DPA may request that the communication service provider restrict access to the respective information resource altogether, in particular to web address, domain name and references to the web pages in the internet.

Changes Impacting Businesses that Process Internet Communications

In addition to the new Database Law, a new Federal Law № 97-FZ dated May 5, 2014 (Moderator Law) amends an existing Federal Law “On information, information technologies and information protection” to create new obligations for organizers of information distribution in the internet (moderators). The term “moderator” is defined as those maintaining information systems or software designed or used to receive, transfer, deliver or process electronic messages on the internet.  The relevant Russian regulator has clarified unofficially that the Moderator Law is addressed only to instant messaging, blogging, social media and e-mails (see clarification at http://rkn.gov.ru/press/publications/news26545.htm). However, the broad and ambiguous definition makes it possible to apply the Moderator Law to every website that has a chat or comment feature, or that is capable of sending or receiving messages from users.  The definition as it is might also apply to e-commerce, services of cloud storage, and more.

The amendments impose several new obligations on moderators, some of which give sweeping new rights of access to the Russian Government: 

  1. All moderators must file notification to the state authorities upon commencing moderating activity (meaning, upon maintaining information systems or software designed or used to receive, transfer, deliver or process electronic messages on the internet).  The entity shall file notification upon respective request of competent state authority or at its own initiative. The entity then will be qualified as moderator after its inclusion into special Register of moderators. The particular procedure of notification is specified in the Governmental Regulation №746 dated July 31, 2014 which became effective August 12, 2014.
  2. All moderators are obliged to store (in the territory of Russia for not less than six months) information on the facts of reception, transfer, delivery, processing of electronic messages of users and the data of such users.  The types of information to be stored are determined in recently published in Governmental Regulation № 759 dated July 31, 2014 which became effective August 14, 2014.  The Regulation also specifies categories of the users whose electronic messages and data should be stored.  Moderators also are under obligation to transfer such information to competent state authorities upon their request.  The requested information should be provided by the moderator within the specified term which is under general rule 30 days.  However, there might be urgent requests which imply requirement to provide information within three days.
  3. The moderators are obliged to comply with requirements for technical equipment as well as software and hardware tools established by the state authorities responsible to ensure security (for example, Federal Security Service), as well as those conducting criminal investigation in order to let them perform their functions.  For example, if the state authority cannot decrypt requested information on the moderator’s information systems, the moderator must assist authorities by taking required steps to grant access to the information it needs. The detailed procedure on liaising of moderators with state authorities on technical requirements is specified in the Governmental Regulations №743 dated July 31, 2014, which became effective August 12, 2014.

Note, however that the outlined obligations are not applicable to operators of state (municipal) information systems, communications operators (i.e., legal entities rendering communications services under the respective license) as well as to the individuals acting as moderators for private (personal) purposes.

If a moderator fails to comply with the Moderator Law or its implementing Regulations, the competent state authority is entitled to restrict access to the informational resources of the moderator by following statutory specified procedure set forth in the Governmental Regulation №745 dated July 31, 2014, which became effective August 12, 2014.

The violation of the Moderator Law and its implementing Regulations exposes the company and its officers to the following potential fines:

  • Failure to file required notifications can result a company fine from 100,000 to 300,000 RUR ($2,695.84 up to $8,087.52 USD) and a fine for company officers ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 RUR ($269.58 to $808.75 USD);
  • Failure to store information or ensure access by authorities can result in a company fine ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 RUR ($8,087.52 up to $13,479.20 USD) , and a fine for or company officers – from 30,000 to 50,000 RUR ($808.75 up to $1,347.92 USD); and
  • Failure to comply with technical requirements can result in a company fine ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 RUR ($8,087.52 up to $13,479.20 USD) and a fine for company officers ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 RUR ($808.75 up to $1,347.92 USD).

Guest author, Maria Ostashenko is Of Counsel at ALRUD Law Firm based in Moscow, Russia.  Ms. Ostashenko and the ALRUD Firm are part of McDermott’s worldwide network of local privacy counsel who enable us to deliver seamless advice to multinational clients with the speed, efficiency and quality that our clients have come to expect from our team.