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FSB - Domestic Surveillance

The Soviet scale of bugging conversations of citizens was unsurpassed. In Stalin's time Beria's department monitored the telephone conversations of thousands of people, ranging from state and public figures to writers and journalists. In the Khrushchev era surveillance was substantially curtailed, with a total ban on eavesdropping on Supreme Soviet deputies, other important party or state functionary and their families without the express authorization of the CPSU General Secretary. Eavesdropping on ordinary citizens required a specific reason, such as suspicion of espionage or dissidence. Surveillance of people suspected of crimes was initiated by the USSR Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, and required the written authorization of the Chief of the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security) agents 12th Directorate.

When Vadim Bakatin became leader of the KGB in 1991, he stated in a public interview that [apart from collection against foreign agent networks, foreign drugs couriers, and similar external targets] the KGB's technical resources allowed the simultaneous tapping of no more than 500 Russians. Cost was one limiting factor, since six operators are needed for round-the-clock tappingm which with associated expenditure brings the annual cost of monitoring a single subject to upwards of 200 million rubles [at 1997 prices]. Informants in organizations of interest to the special services [the defense industry, scientific institutions, transport centers, ministries, or editorial offices] are frequently an easier and less expensive means of obtaining information than organizing tapping.

Obtaining permission to monitor telephone conversations required the presentation to a court of material supporting an investigation. With the approval of a judge, FSB department carrying out the investigation prepares written instructions for tapping. Premises used for tapping are subject to a maximum secrecy regime, and officers are prohibited from visiting the FSB's main building in the Lubyanka. These precautionary measures have been taken to preclude criminal or commercial compromise of FSB surveillance operations. A supervisory prosecutor can arrive without warning wherever FSB officers are carrying out tapping and check which telephone numbers are being monitored at that time and whether the relevant permission has been granted. Despite these precautions, even FSB officers fear tapping, and particularly do not trust the municipal telephones installed in their offices.

Telephone and electronic communications are subject to surveillance, which can potentially compromise sensitive information. The Russian System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM) legally permits authorities to monitor and record all data that traverses Russia’s networks. Travelers should assume all communications are monitored. Most people rely on their cell phones, laptops, and other electronics to stay in touch with friends and family. Therefore, all travelers are encouraged to weigh their desire to stay connected with the risks, and take precautions to keep personal information protected.




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Page last modified: 19-09-2016 12:49:02 ZULU