Russia has begun to block access to LinkedIn after the social network was found last week by a local court to be in violation of a Russian law that requires that Russian citizens' data be stored on computers within Russia. That ruling was the first such action against a foreign company and was based on a law passed two years ago; to date, major social network providers including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have not complied with the new law.

Through its overseer of communications, Roskomnadzor, the Russian government said today that access to the LinkedIn would be blocked, and some LinkedIn users in Russia have already reported already experiencing the outage.

Russia claims that the purpose of its law requiring citizens' data to be located within the country is to protect them from espionage and other hostile actions that may be taken by foreign governments. Theoretically, such a claim is not entirely unreasonable - we know, for example, that the United States government has engaged in all sorts of intelligence gathering online, has spied on peoples' communications without obtaining warrants, and has issued warrants to various providers for access to individuals' data. That said, it is certainly possible - if not likely - that Russia's real reason for keeping data local is to ensure that its own government can spy on its citizens - something that is certainly easier to do when data is physically within its jurisdiction.

Through a spokeswoman, LinkedIn has objected to Russia's actions, commenting that "Roskomnadzor's action to block LinkedIn denies access to the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses."

How the LinkedIn-Russia conflict plays out may have much larger implications for many reasons: Linked is owned by Microsoft, and any capitulation by LinkedIn could mean that Microsoft - and other software companies - might be pushed to locate all of their Russian user data for other services to sit within Russia. Furthermore, if the Russian government does successfully force LinkedIn to relocate Russian data to Russia, it is more likely to pursue similar courses of action with other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. And, if Russia succeeds in utilizing a "data must be local" law to make people's information more accessible to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, other countries desiring similar powers might follow suit.

One simple lesson for everyone - regardless of how the LinkedIn-Russia case plays out: Assume anything that you post on social media is accessible to government agents. Think before you post. And, if possible use technology to warn you if you are posting something that you should not be sharing. (Full disclosure: SecureMySocial, of which I am the CEO, offers such technology.)

Published on: Nov 17, 2016
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