Tuesday, July 17, 2018

URA.ru editor sues mobile operator over alleged wiretapping

The editor-in-chief of Yekaterinburg-based news agency URA.ru is attempting to sue the country's largest mobile operator MTS over the alleged wiretapping of her phone.

Aksana Panova filed a complaint with the city's Leninsky District court this week claiming that the Urals branch of MTS violated a key condition of its service contract that requires that the operator protect the personal data of users and ensure the confidentiality of subscriber information, RIA Novosti reports.

Panova is also suing the Regional Network Information Center in an attempt to force the company to reveal the identity of the internet service provider that allegedly published her phone conversations.

It is unclear whether the court will bring the case to a hearing or not.

According to the Russian criminal code, wiretapping must be authorized by law enforcement bodies when the content may be later presented as evidence. The courts granted 466,152 warrants for wiretapping phones and intercepting emails last year, nearly doubling the 265,937 issued in 2007, RIA Novosti reports.

Andrei Soldatov, an intelligence analyst at Agentura.ru, attributed the rise in tapping to 2010 legislation that permits security officials to check people's emails and bug phones on mere suspicion that they are committing a crime. Violators could face jail time, though recent legislation from former President Dmitry Medvedev makes it unlikely - he banned minimal prison sentences for 68 criminal offenses, including illegal wiretapping.

Panova said on her site that she has never been the subject of a criminal investigation. She said that the wiretapping was a result of critical comments she has made about local politicians in private conversation. Some such recorded conversations were published recently on various websites.

"I've been told many times - including by top state officials - that some people were eavesdropping on my phone conversations," Panova said, RIA Novosti reports. "I was told by Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev and Deputy Prosecutor General Yury Ponomarev as well as by senior police officers. The printouts of my phone calls have been shown to me over many years. I kind-of got used to it and tried not to live a double life."

Panova said that the publication of her conversations is proof of illegal tapping.

"Now there is documentary evidence that wiretaps are actually being conducted, even though everyone understands that it's neither sanctioned nor legal," Panova said, according to RIA Novosti. "Everyone pretends this is the normal order of things. We now have a chance to openly and publicly examine this trend and try to understand on what basis they eavesdrop on and then publish individual conversations."

Panova said the Ural branch of MTS claims to have no technical ability to record conversations, but that special services have such capabilities. MTS also said it found no evidence of illegal acts after conducting their own internal investigation.

Some of the published private conversations include interactions between Panova and former State Duma Deputy Yevgeny Roizman, who now runs drug rehab clinics in the Sverdlovsk region.

"When I found out that my conversations were tapped, I wrote a complaint to the Deputy Prosecutor General Yury Ponomarev. Six months later, and all I got was the runaround," Roizman said, according to RIA Novosti. "If we are free people in a free country, we just have to resist this with all the legal means at our disposal."