The Russian security service FSB (former KGB) wants to close down Skype, Gmail, Hotmail and other similar popular internet services:
The comments from the head of the service`s information and special communication centre Alexander Andreyechkin were disowned by the Kremlin but come amid mounting concern over state meddling in the Internet in Russia.
Control of Internet traffic through these services is done from servers outside Russia, and so they are often used by extremist organizations, Andreyechkin was reported as saying before the meeting continued without the press.
Deputy communications minister Ilya Massukh later said that recommendations on regulating the mass usage of encryption technology would be given to the government by October 1.
The FSB would like to ban these services in Russia because "security authorities cannot access them," Massukh was reported as saying.
Russian agencies quoted a Kremlin source later Friday as saying that Andreyechkin`s statements were "his own opinion and don`t reflect the government`s policy regarding development of the Internet."
"Andreyechkin overstepped his authority and made hasty remarks about these popular services," the source said, RIA Novosti reported.
"State policy in the sphere of Internet technology is not set by security services."
Communications Minister Igor Shchegolev affirmed later that there were "no plans to cut off Skype, Gmail, Hotmail or any other foreign services working in Russia," the Interfax news agency reported.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on the other hand defended Andreyechkin`s view, calling it "based on the (FSB) service`s duties" and "well-reasoned", Interfax reported.
All points of view will be discussed before any further recommendations are made, Peskov added.
The FSB warning came the same week that the LiveJournal blogging site, hugely popular in Russia, fell victim to repeated cyber-attacks that bloggers blamed on the Russian security services and the authorities` desire to disrupt internet communication ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who prides himself on his use of Twitter and also maintains a LiveJournal weblog, called the attack "outrageous and illegal".
A spokeswoman for LiveJournal Russia told AFP on Friday that the company was preparing to file an official complaint on the attacks so the interior ministry could launch a criminal investigation.
Oppositional newspaper Novaya Gazeta on Friday reported a similar attack on its website, which was down most of the day. The paper claimed in its blog that the attack was carried out by the same hackers who crashed LiveJournal.
The secretive FSB, which is a successor to the Soviet KGB, has denounced popular non-Russian Internet services in the past.
But this is the first time the FSB appears to propose restrictions on a national level, said security analyst Andrei Soldatov.
"This is definitely alarming," he told AFP, saying the FSB`s goal may be not to close access to the public, but to improve its own access to encrypted information.
"The goal may be to bargain with these services to disclose at least partially their encryption technology," he said.
Internet usage in Russia grew rapidly in the last decade, from less than two percent of residents in 2000 to 29 percent in 2009. Internet penetration now stands at 42.8 percent, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
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It is easy to agree with analyst Andrei Soldatov. This is a very alarming development. There must be a lot of frustrated former KGB officers (now in the FSB) who nostalgically yearn for the good old days, when closing the mouths of dissidents was so easy. Now they want to stop free speech in the internet. And in spite of what Medvedev and his assistants in the Kremlin say, the old KGB-men may very well succeed, because they have a powerful friend - their former colleague, Vladimir Putin, the real ruler of Russsia.