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Striking the Balance between Human Rights Online and State Security Concerns: The Russian Way in a Comparative Context

  • Oreste Pollicino and Oleg Soldatov


In pursuit of solutions to curb cybercrime, legislators engage in an analysis proportionally weighing freedom of expression and other societal interests. The balance between the two concepts differs dramatically across different jurisdictions. This Article looks into a widely discussed legislative package regulating the online domain, enacted by the Sixth Convocation of the Russian Parliament (2011–2016)—the State Duma. The authors operate under the assumption that the Russian approach might have a broad spillover effect. With this in mind, the authors outline the current status quo regarding Internet regulations in the EU, disentangle and contextualize the legislation under scrutiny, emphasize Russian influence over Eastern European countries, and describe the tumultuous relationship between the Russian Federation and the European Court of Human Rights.

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1 Henry Farrell, Why the Hidden Internet Can't be a Libertarian Paradise, Aeon (Feb. 20, 2015),

2 See Internet Development Institute, ‘Predlozhenija po formirovaniju dolgosrochnoj programmy razvitija rossijskoj chasti informacionno-kommunikacionnoj seti “Internet” i svjazannyh s nej otraslej jekonomiki’ [Suggestions on formulating the long-term development programme of the Russian Internet sector and related branches of economy], (Draft Paper) (Sept. 29, 2015).

3 The Internet entered the commercial phase in 1984–89, and expanded into global networks during the 1990s when business and personal computers with different operating systems joined the universal network. See Cohen-Almagor, R., Internet History, 2 Int'l J. Technoethics 45, 4547 (2011).

4 See Barlow, J. P., A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation (Feb. 8, 1996),

5 See Pollicino, Oreste & Bassini, Marco, The Law of the Internet Between Globalization and Localization, in Transnational law-Rethinking law and Legal Thinking 346, 348 (M. Maduro & K. Tuori eds., 2014).

6 See Goldsmith, J. L., Against Cyberanarchy, 65 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1199, 1200 (1998).

7 See European Convention on Human Rights, art. 10, Sept. 3, 1953 (defining freedom of expression).

8 See Ahmet Yildirim v. Turkey, App. No. 3111/10, para. 8–9 (Dec. 18, 2012),

9 Erik Bleich, Freedom of Expression versus Racist Hate Speech: Explaining Differences Between High Court Regulations in the USA and Europe, 39 J. Ethnic & Migration Stud. 283, 283 (2013).

10 See Beck, Ulrich, The Terrorist Threat, 19 Theory Culture & Soc'y 39, 5354 (2009).

11 See generally Negroponte, Nicholas, Being Digital (1995).

12 See Balkin, Jack M., The Future of Free Expression in a Digital Age, 36 Pepp. L. Rev. 427, 434–35 (2009).

13 The primary legal instruments regulating the online domain on the territory of Europe include the Council of Europe legal instruments (including but not limited to the 2001 Convention on Cybercrime with its Additional Protocol; and the 2007 Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse), the European Union instruments (including, but not limited to Directive 2000/31/EC on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market; and Regulation 2016/679 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data), as well as national legislation.

14 For a more elaborate presentation, see Pollicino, Oreste & Bassini, Marco, Free Speech, Defamation and the Limits to Freedom of Expression in the EU: A Comparative Analysis, in Research Handbook on EU Internet Law 508, 541 (A. Savin & J. Trzaskowski eds., 2014).

15 See Council of Europe, Filtering, Blocking and Take-Down of Illegal Content on the Internet (Dec. 20, 2015),

16 Id.

17 See European Commission, European Commission and IT Companies announce Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech (May 31, 2016),

18 See Council of Europe, Internet Users' Rights (April 16, 2014),

19 See Tambini, Damian, Danilo Leonardi, & Chris Mardsen, Codifying Cyberspace 28–49, 112–89 (2008).

20 Council of Europe, supra note 18.

21 For instance, the rights and freedoms guaranteed by Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights are qualified, and each Article contains a limitation clause. No restrictions on these rights are permitted other than those expressly listed, and such restrictions must have a legitimate aim.

22 See Simms, David & Ghernaouti, Solange, Report on Taxonomy and Evaluation of Existing Inventories, European Union E-Crime Project (Nov. 30, 2014),

23 For the purposes of this article, this concept is defined as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation.” Gary LaFree & Laura Dugan, Introducing the Global Terrorism Database, 19 Terrorism & Pol. Violence 181, 184 (2007).

24 European Commission, supra note 17.

25 Clive Walker & Maura Conway, Online Terrorism and Online Laws, 8 Dynamics Asymmetric Conflict 156, 156 (2015).

26 See Cory, Nigel, The Worst Innovation Mercantilist Policies of 2016, Information Tech. & Innovation Found. (Jan. 9, 2017),; see also Council of Europe supra note 18, n. 15.

27 Council of Europe, supra, note 15.

28 See United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes 9596 (2012),

29 See Neumann, Peter, Countering Online Radicalization in America, Bipartisan Policy Center (Dec. 6, 2012),

30 Oreste Pollicino & Marco Bassini, supra note 14, at 517–20.

31 Daniel Castro, The False Promise of Data Nationalism, Info. Tech. & Innovation Found. (Dec. 9, 2013),

32 See Anupam Chander & Le, Uyen P., Data Nationalism, 64 Emory L.J. 677, 679 (2015).

33 Castro, supra note 31.

34 Cory, supra note 26.

35 See generally European Court of Human Rights, Internet: Case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (June 16, 2015),

37 European Union Ministers Bonn Declaration, July 8, 1997.

38 See Delfi AS v. Estonia, App. No. 64569/09 (June 16, 2015),

39 See Magyar Tartalomszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Zrt v. Hungary, App. No. 22947/13 (Feb. 2, 2016),

40 McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U.S. 334 (1995).

41 A Virtual Private Network extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet. It enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. See Pinola, Melanie, Virtual Private Network (VPN) Definition and Examples, Lifewire (Oct. 14, 2016),

42 The most well-known application of onion relaying is Tor, a software that protects a user by bouncing his/her communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world, thereby preventing third parties from monitoring a user's Internet connection and learning what sites he/she visits, as well as preventing the sites from learning the user's physical location. See Tor FAQ, Tor Project

43 See Duah, Ebenezer, Internet Service Providers' Monitoring Obligation, 6 Masaryk Univ. J.L. & Tech. 207, 208 (2012).

44 See Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Eng.), and subsequent amendments.

45 Arianna Vedaschi & Valerio Lubello, Data Retention and its Implications for the Fundamental Right to Privacy, 20 Tilburg L. Rev. 14, 15 (2015).

46 See Fabbrini, Federico, Human Rights in the Digital Age: The European Court of Justice Ruling in the Data Retention Case and its Lessons for Privacy and Surveillance in the U.S., 28 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 65, 69 (2015).

47 See Council Directive 2006/24/EC, 2006 O.J. (EC) (explaining the retention of data generated or processed related to the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC).

48 See Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 8 April 2014

Digital Rights Ireland Ltd v Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Others and Kärntner Landesregierung and Others, Joined Cases C- 293/12 and C- 594/12

49 See Case C-203/15 & Case C-698/15, Tele2 Sverige AB v. Post-och telestyrelsen and Secretary of St. for the Home Dep't v. Tom Watson and Others, 2016 E.C.R.

50 See Roman Zakharov v. Russia, App. No. 47143/06 (Dec. 4, 2015),

51 See Akrivopoulou, Christina & Psygkas, Athanasios, Personal Data Privacy and Protection in a Surveillance Era 257 (2011).

52 See Mälksoo, Lauri, Russian Approaches to International Law 3 (2015).

53 Bill Bowring, Russia and Human Rights: Incompatible Opposites?, 1 Göttingen J. Int'l L. 257, 262 (2012).

54 See Meister, Stefan & Puglierin, Jana, Perception and Exploitation: Russia's Non-Military Influence in Europe, 10 DGAPkompakt 4 (2015).

55 See Washburn, Daniel, Religious Tradition and Innovation in the Post-Soviet World: A Case of Revival of Rejection, Cumberland Lodge (Feb. 2, 2007),

56 See Ekaterina Demakova & Godzimirski, Jakub M., Russian External Energy Strategy: Opportunities and Constraints, in Dynamics of Energy Governance in Europe and Russia 149, 150–51 (C. Kuzemko et al. eds., 2012).

57 See generally DeBardeleben, Joan, The Impact of EU Enlargement on the EU-Russian Relationship, in A Resurgent Russia and the West: The European Union, NATO, and Beyond 93 (R. E. Kanet ed., 2009).

58 See Bechev, Dimitar, Russia's Influence in Bulgaria, New Direction (May 12, 2015),

59 See Hegedŭs, Daniel, The Kremlin's Influence in Hungary, 8 DGAPkompakt 1 (2016).

60 See Feyt, Nadezda, Russian-Romanian Relations in the 21st Century, 11 Pol. Sci. Int'l Rel. 53 (2014).

61 Vladimer Papava, The Eurasianism of the Russian antiwesternism and the concept of Central Caucasia, 3 Ideology & Pol. 68, 6970 (2013).

62 Tatyana Beschastna, Freedom of Expression in Russia as it Relates to Criticism of the Government, 27 Emory Int'l L. Rev. 1105 (2013).

63 Bowring, supra note 53, at 258.

64 See Konstitutsiia Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Konst. RF] [Constitution] (Russ.).

65 This article, in its entirety, states the following:

Konstitutsiia Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Konst. RF] [Constitution] art. 29 (Russ.).

66 Papava, supra note 61.

67 Id.

68 See Arva, Bryan J. & Piazza, James A., Spatial Distribution of Minority Communities and Terrorism, 27 Def. & Peace Econ. 1, 3 (2016).

69 See generally Monica Duffy Toft & Yuri Zhukov, Denial and Punishment in the North Caucasus: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Coercive Counter-insurgency, 49 J. Peace Res. 785 (2012).

70 See English, Richard, Armed Struggle 3–4 (1st ed., 2005).

71 See Komen, Maria M., Homegrown Muslim Extremism in the Netherlands: An Exploratory Note, 7 J. Strategic Sec. 47 (2013).

72 See Alexander, Yonah et al., Turkey: Terrorism, Civil Rights and the European Union (2008).

73 See Whitfield, Teresa, The Basque Conflict and ETA, United States Institute of Peace (Dec. 2015),

74 See Soldatov, Andrei & Borogan, Irina, The Red Web 246 (2015).

75 See Moore, Cerwyn, Foreign Bodies: Transnational Activism, the Insurgency in the North Caucasus and Beyond, 27 Terrorism & Pol. Violence 395, 406 (2015).

76 Roskomnadzor is the Russian Federal Surveillance Service for Mass Media and Communications, an executive structure within the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media and the federal body responsible for supervision and surveillance of the media in Russia, including electronic media. See Regulation of Online Content in the Russian Federation 68 (2015).

77 See generally Anderson, Nate, The Internet Police (2013).

78 U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Countering Violent Extremism, a “Perfect Excuse” to Restrict Free Speech and Control the Media (May 3, 2016),

79 See Hughes, Justin, The Internet and the Persistence of Law, 44 B.C. L. Rev. 1, 37 (2003); see also Rowland, Diane & Kohl, Uta, Information Technology Law 3 (2012).

80 See Case C-131/12, Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v. Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) & Mario Costeja González, 2014 E.C.R.

81 See Kowalik-Bańczyk, Krystyna and Pollicino, Oreste, Migration of European Judicial Ideas Concerning Jurisdiction Over Google on Withdrawal of Information, 17 German L.J. 315, 319, 330–37 (2016).

82 See Pollicino, Oreste, Bridge Is Down, Data Truck Can't Get Through … A Critical View of the Schrems Judgment in the Context of European Constitutionalism, 26 ItYIL (forthcoming 2017).

83 See Case C-362/14, Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, 2015 E.C.R.

84 Oleg Soldatov, Is the Ukrainian Ban on Russian Social Media Justified?, European Ctr. for Press & Media Freedom (Aug. 1, 2017),

85 See Kelly, Sanja et al., Freedom on the Net 2015, Freedom House (Oct. 2015),

86 Roskomnadzor Warned Media About Blocking for Extremism, Lenta (Jan. 31, 2014),

87 Namely, Federal'nyi zakon (federal law) July 27, 2006, No. 149.

88 See Ivanov, Ivan, Internet: Use and keep in check, Otrasli Prava (Apr. 7, 2015), www.otpacлиправа.рф/article/110.

89 Venice Commission Opinion on the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity, no. 660/2011.

90 See Prime Minister's Task Force on Tackling Radicalization and Extremism, Tackling Extremism in the UK, U.K. Government (Dec. 4, 2013),

91 Soldatov & Borogan, supra note 74, at 313.

92 In the end of July 2017, after this manuscript was accepted for the publication, a new Law prohibiting anonymizer and VPN usage and superseding Federal Law No. 97-FZ, was signed. Namely, Federal Law No. 276-FZ dated July 29, 2017 was enacted on November 1, 2017. This new piece of legislation prohibits usage of software and hardware solutions that facilitate access to the Internet resources blocked in Russia. The providers of such solutions will have to either voluntarily cooperate with Roskomnadzor, or face the prospect of unconditional ban on the Russian territory. It should also be observed that Federal Law No. 276-FZ only specifies the obligations of VPN service providers and website owners; ordinary Internet users would not, in principle, be prosecuted for using VPNs and anonymizers. See Soldatov, Oleg, The Russian VPN Ban: Another Round in the Battle for a Free Internet, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (Sept. 20, 2017),

93 Neil McFarquhar, Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Web With “Bloggers Law”, N.Y. Times (May 6, 2014),

94 See Maggs, Peter B. et al., Law and Legal System of the Russian Federation 372 (2015).

95 See Legislative Restrictions on Popular Bloggers Come Into Force in Russia, Russ. Today (Aug. 1, 2014),

96 See Moyakine, Evgeni, Online Anonymity in the Modern Digital Age: Quest for a Legal Right, 1 J. Info. Rts., Pol'y & Prac. 5 (2016).

97 See Drezner, Daniel W., So You Want to Blog …, in APSA Guide to Publications 181, 190 (2008).

98 Sazonoiv, V., The Law on Giving the Mass Media Status to Bloggers, Radio Ekho Moskvy (May 7, 2014),

99 Mikhail Chentsov et al., Personal Data Storage in Russia, East-West Digital News (Sept. 2015),

100 See Fiero, Anne, Russia's Federal Law No 242-FZ—Where Does it Leave us on Data Retention and Sharing, LinkedIn (Oct. 1, 2015),

101 Maggs et al., supra note 94.

102 Id.

103 See Pollicino, Oreste & Bassini, Marco, supra note 5, at 348–49.

104 See LinkedIn to be Blocked by Telecom Providers, Roskomnadzor (Nov. 17, 2016),

105 See LinkedIn Traffic Statistics, Alexa (Jan. 12, 2018),

106 See Kang, Cecilia and Benner, Katie, Russia Requires Apple and Google to Remove LinkedIn from Local App Stores, N.Y. Times (Jan. 6, 2017),

107 See LinkedIn refused to eliminate violations of Russian legislation, Roskomnadzor (Mar. 7, 2017),

108 Maggs et al., supra note 94.

109 Fiero, supra note 100.

110 Ivan Nechepurenko, Russia Moves to Tighten Counterterror Law, N.Y. Times (June 24, 2016),

111 Postanovlenie Plenuma Verkhovongo Suda Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Russian Federation Supreme Court Plenary Ruling of Feb. 9, 2012] Biulleten' Verkhovnogo Suda RF [BVS] [Bulletin of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation] 2012, No. 1.

112 Federal'nyi zakon (federal law) July 21, 2014, No. 274.

113 See Bailey, Ronald, I Learned It By Watching You!, Reason 18 (Nov. 2016).

114 See Morschakova, Tamara et al., Zakonoproekty Ozerova i Yarovoj ne snizjat terroristicheskoj i jekstremistskoj ugrozy i nuzhdajutsja v pererabotke [Draft laws prepared by Ozerov and Yarovaya will not decrease the terrorist and extremist threat, and need to be reworked], Human Rights Council (Apr. 16, 2016),

115 See Potresov, S., “Popravki Yarovoj i Ozerova,” tsena voprosa [Ozerov's and Yarova's Drafts, Amounts Involved], Mobile-Review (June 24, 2016),

116 See Savitskiy, V., Kvartalnyy Podschet [Quarterly Results], Comnews (Sept. 1, 2016),

117 Potresov, supra note 115.

118 Bailey, supra note 113.

119 See Vkontakte so sledovatelyami [Online with Prosecutors], Medusa (July 5, 2016),

120 See European Commission on Human Rights, High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights, Brighton Declaration (Apr. 19, 2012), (last visited April 7, 2017).

121 See Sweet, Alec Stone, On the Constitutionalisation of the Convention: The European Court of Human Rights as a Constitutional Court, 71 Fac. Scholarship Series 4 (2009).

122 Ed Bates, The Evolution of the European Convention on Human Rights: From its Inception to the Creation of a Permanent Court of Human Rights 22 (2010).

123 Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, A Tale of Two Courts: Luxembourg, Strasbourg and the Growing European Human Rights Acquis, 43 Common Mkt. L. Rev. 629, 631 (2006).

124 Francoise Tulkens, Execution and Effects of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: The Role of the Judiciary, in Dialogue Between Judges 9, 12 (2006).

125 See Supervision of the execution of judgments and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights: 9th Annual Report of the Committee of Ministers, Council of Europe 21 (2016).

126 See Abdelgawad, Elisabeth Lambert, The Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights 6 (2006) (citing interim resolutions in cases of Loizidou v Turkey, and Ilaşcu and others v Moldova and the Russian Federation).

127 Council of Europe, supra note 125, at 101.

128 Helfer, Laurence R., Redesigning the European Court of Human Rights: Embeddedness as a Deep Structural Principle of the European Human Rights Regime, 19 Eur. J. Int'l L. 125, 125 (2008).

129 High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights, Brighton Declaration, supra note 120.

130 Pomeranz, William E., Uneasy Partners: Russia and the European Court of Human Rights, 19 Human Rts. Brief 17, 17 (2012).

131 See Mälksoo, Lauri, Russia's Constitutional Court Defies the European Court of Human Rights, 12 Eur. Const. L. Rev. 377, 380 (2016).

132 Postanovlenie Konstitutsionnogo Sudaa Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 14 июль 2015 [Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of July 14, 2015], Rossiiskaia Gazeta [Ros. Gaz.] 2015, No. 21-Π [hereinafter Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation].

133 This law was criticized by the Venice Commission. See Venice Commission Interim Opinion on the Amendments to the Federal Constitutional Law on the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation no. 832/2015,

134 Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, supra note 132.

135 Postanovlenie Konstitutsionnogo Sudaa Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 19 aΠpeπb 2016 [Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of Apr. 19, 2016], Rossiiskaia Gazeta [Ros. Gaz.] 2016, No. 12-Π [Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of Apr. 19, 2016].

136 See Neuman, Gerald L., Human Rights and Constitutional Rights: Harmony and Dissonance, 55 Stan. L. Rev. 1863, 1863 (2003).

137 Sweet, supra note 121, at 6.

138 See Pollicino, Oreste, The European Court of Human Rights and the Italian Constitutional Court: No “Groovy Kind of Love”, in The UK and European Human Rights: A Strained Relationship? 361, 363 (K. Siegler ed., 2015).

139 See Kanetake, M. and Nollkaemper, A., The Rule of Law at the National and International Levels 215 (Hart Publishing 2016).

140 Pollicino, supra note 138, at 377.

141 European Court of Human Rights HUDOC Database Search,{%22respondent%22:[%22RUS%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22CHAMBER%22,%22COMMUNlCATEDCASES%22]} (last visited January 17, 2018).

142 European Court of Human Rights HUDOC Database Search,{%22fulltext%22:[%22internet%22],%22respondent%22:[%22RUS%22],%22article%22:[%228%22,%228-1%22,%228-2%22,%2210%22,%2210-1%22,%2210-2%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22COMMUNICATEDCASES%22]} (last visited Jan. 17, 2018).

143 Oleg Soldatov, Data Retention Under the 2016 Yarovaya Law in Russia, Medialaws (March 2, 2017),

144 Shabanov & Tren v. Russia, App. No. 5433/02 (Dec. 2006), In this case, the Court explored, inter alia, the journalistic duties to cover stories of general interest and to avoid gratuitous attacks on public personalities' reputations.

145 Filatenko v. Russia, App. No. 73219/01 (June 3, 2004), In this case, the Court reached the conclusion that opinions and information aired during an electoral campaign should be considered as part of a debate on issues of public interest and that there is little scope under Article 10 for restrictions on such a debate.

146 Shimovolos v. Russia, App. No. 30194/09 (June 21, 2011), In this case, the Court noted that the existence of the “surveillance database” containing the information about the applicant's travel amounted to an interference with his private life, given the fact that the creation and maintenance of the database and the procedure for its operation were governed by a ministerial order, which had never been published or otherwise made accessible to the public.

147 Olga Dubinska & Oleg Soldatov, Fighting the Lernaean Hydra—General Measures in the Operative Part of the European Court of Human Rights Judgments: Broad Context and Ukrainian Perspectives, 1 Kyiv-Mohyla L. & Pol. J. 176, 179–80 (2015).

148 Putin: vyhod Rossii iz-pod jurisdikcii ESPCh vozmozhen, no vopros na povestke ne stoit [Putin: Russia Can Leave the Jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, but the Question is not on the Agenda], TASS (Aug. 14, 2015),

* Full Professor of Constitutional Law, Bocconi University, Milan

** Ph.D. candidate in Legal Studies, Bocconi University, Milan.

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Striking the Balance between Human Rights Online and State Security Concerns: The Russian Way in a Comparative Context

  • Oreste Pollicino and Oleg Soldatov


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