Russia now sends men to war with an electronic summons
Earlier this week, Russian legislators voted in favor of a new digital draft. Conscripts, currently all men between the ages of 18 and 27, will now be called up electronically, as will other men eligible to serve. Hundreds of thousands of Russian men fled the country last September in response to Putin’s “partial mobilization” of citizens to fight the war in Ukraine. The Russian parliament wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
New amendments to the laws on conscription will make it illegal to ignore electronic military summons. As soon as they are posted to a person’s e-government account (known in Russia as Gosuslugi), they will be considered “received.” This is a big change. Previously, draft officers had to physically hand a person their summons before he could be considered a conscript. But the new rules mean conscripts who fail to enlist within just seven days of receiving the summons on their Gosuslugi account will be banned from leaving the country and have their assets frozen.
Conscripts who ignore their electronic summons, or risk fleeing the country, will be considered fugitives. The legislation will also create a unified registry of citizens eligible for military service. I’ve heard from Russian colleagues who are concerned that such a registry might be used or abused by the Kremlin and, given Russia’s notoriously leaky systems, might be open to exploitation by other malicious actors. They’re right to worry. From Kenya to India to South Korea, we’ve seen too many examples of how citizen registries can be compromised.
India’s IT Ministry says it will form a “fact-checking unit” that will review online news related to the government, flag stories or information it deems “fake” and then order their removal. This will require everyone from small news sites to big online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to take down these kinds of posts or risk litigation.
It’s hard to imagine small outfits withstanding these requests. But there is precedent for big companies to push back against mechanisms like this. Under its previous leadership, Twitter had at least some appetite for standing up to overly broad censorship orders from governments, including India — the company took the Indian government to court over their requests to censor tweets about the farmers’ protests in 2021. But the Musk regime seems glad to honor legal requests in India, regardless of public interest. Earlier this year, we reported on a flurry of locally-censored tweets and account suspensions that came at the government’s behest, amid public unrest in Punjab. And just this week, the company appears to have censored two tweets from an Indian journalist. One of the tweets apparently quoted the Home Minister Amit Shah. Ordinarily, when tweets are taken down because of a legal request from a government, the censorship is restricted only to the country in question. Users in other countries, or with the aid of a VPN, would still be able to see the tweets blocked in India. But in this case, the block was applied worldwide, so no one anywhere could see the tweets.
Though there has been some speculation, it is not clear what the tweets actually said — a classic problem with swift, wholesale censorship in these situations is that the public has no way of knowing what triggered the response to begin with. If Twitter (and other big multinational social media platforms) were required to put all of its content into a searchable public archive — or at least archive speech by state officials — it would enable journalists and researchers to get to the bottom of mysteries like this one.
Twitter’s apparent willingness to indulge the Indian government is a reminder that Twitter is a private enterprise – not a public square. In fact, Twitter is no longer even an independent company. Last week it came to light that Elon Musk had folded Twitter, Inc. into another company he owns, known only as X, presumably in tribute to the multibillionaire’s favorite letter. Incorporated in Delaware, the U.S. state that most closely resembles a tax haven, X may be part of Musk’s stated desire to turn Twitter into an “everything” app, akin to China’s WeChat, that enables payments, ride-sharing, banking and more, and as such will probably lead to antitrust probes from Washington. Slate has a helpful breakdown of the business side of the story.
Armenia wants to up its digital censorship game. Proposed amendments to the current martial law regime, in place due to the country’s ongoing conflict on its border with Azerbaijan, would give the government the power to impose “temporary suspension (blocking) of websites, social networks, Internet applications, as well as partial or complete restriction of Internet access in the territory of the Republic of Armenia.” There is precedent for these kinds of restrictions — when violence in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region escalated last September, TikTok was blocked on both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. Dozens of NGOs signed an open letter this week, hosted by Access Now, calling for this and related amendments to be taken off the table.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Russia and China are often mentioned in the same breath when we talk about tech and authoritarianism, though their tactics don’t always align. But a new investigation from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has brought to light evidence of cooperation between the Cyberspace Administration of China and Roskomnadzor, the Russian state agency charged with policing the internet.
- Citizen Lab put out a first look at QuaDream, a spyware company that has far less name recognition but many of the same terrifying tricks — including zero-click exploits — as Israel’s NSO Group.
- And in a new essay for Tech Policy Press, Data & Society’s Jenna Burrell writes that generative AI is nothing short of a “Marxist nightmare: the work of millions accruing to a few capitalist owners who pay nothing at all for that labor.”