After Moving Servers to Russia, LiveJournal Bans ‘Political Solicitation’

Image: Pixabay, edited by Kevin Rothrock

Last December, the blogging platform LiveJournal — purchased in 2007 by the Russian company SUP Media — finally relocated its data servers from California to Russia.

Calling attention to the shift, Anton Nossik (a former advisor to SUP Media) declared, “LJ’s servers have moved ‘closer’ not to its authors and readers, but to those who want to monitor them.”

This Tuesday, April 4, LiveJournal released an updated user agreement, revealing what steps it's taking to adjust to its new existence as a blogging platform in full compliance with Russia’s stifling Internet laws. In particular, users like Nossik have expressed concerns that the website’s data will now be fully accessible to Russian police snooping, in accordance with recently enacted “anti-terrorist” legislation.

No more “political solicitation”

One of the most chilling revisions in the new terms of service is Article 9.2.7, which forbids users from posting “political solicitation materials” without specific permission from LiveJournal.

Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer specializing in Internet issues with the Agora Human Rights Association, told RuNet Echo that Russian federal law doesn’t actually use the term “political solicitation,” and regulates only “campaign agitation,” imposing administrative liability in just some cases.

“These [legal] procedures are absolutely not connected to the LiveJournal terms of service,” Gainutdinov explained.

LiveJournal published two versions of its user agreement: one in Russian and another in English, which begins with a disclaimer that reads, “This translation of the user agreement is not a legally binding document,” followed by a hyperlink to the “valid” Russian document. LiveJournal added no disclaimer to the Russian version.

According to Gainutdinov, this probably means the company is simply stating that the Russian text prevails over the English version, if any differences between the two are discovered. “This also means that all LiveJournal users, including people outside Russia, must follow the Russian text,” he said.

Frightening as it might seem to sign up for a blog and find yourself beholden to a Russian “legally binding, valid document,” the user agreement itself is just a generic contract that allows LiveJournal to suspend or delete your account, if you break the rules.

“The terms of service don’t establish any corpus delicti [concrete evidence of a crime] in terms of criminal procedures,” Gainutdinov said.

A wider crackdown

LiveJournal’s sudden turn on “political solicitation” follows a similar crackdown on political fundraising by the online wallet Yandex.Money, which abruptly suspended service this January to users pursuing “political aims,” less than two months after opposition leader Alexey Navalny began online fundraising through his campaign manager, Leonid Volkov.

Responding to criticism that the service was trying to handicap Navalny’s presidential campaign, Yandex.Money’s press service told the news site TJournal that it was simply protecting itself and its users from the potential risks of “legally ambiguous” activity.

Russia will hold its next presidential election in March 2018. Though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy, incumbent Vladimir Putin is widely expected to seek and win a fourth term in office.

1 comment

  • Shava Nerad

    Is this really more scary than having the servers in California where they can be accessed by NSL by the NSA, and the privacy statement and EULA were probably read by no one at all before?

    LJ has been owned by a RF company, as I remember, for about ten years. It is only now with all this Russophobia, that people are panicking and moving their data off the servers. I very much doubt any of this is of issue to someone blogging about their adventures at US science fiction conventions and how their elderly cats are getting by with their UTIs.

    Every user, regardless of where they live in the world, has to click through the privacy policies and EULAs for the US big data providers including FB and Google, and they are scary monsters. Many include phrases such as that they can release your personally identifying information on “suspicion of criminal activity.”

    Most include clauses having to do with providing your full information to business partners or people holding stakes in the company, which could technically mean any shareholder or perhaps a government agency doing a project involving grant money. These agreements are intentionally vague. And the California companies in general insist that any dispute is arbitrated in California, not brought to court. You don’t read these things, do you? They are hostile.

    Do you read Google’s transparency report, which includes an aggregation of the numbers, only, the tens of thousands of National Security Letters they are served quarterly for user data?

    Perhaps you would understand if you saw this why any foreign company would want to move their servers — much less, a RF company in this climate — to another environment.

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