Russia: Landmark ruling against LinkedIn a threat to social media

Access to LinkedIn, the world’s largest online professional network, will be blocked in Russia, following a decision of the Moscow City Court on 11 November 2016. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian authorities to reverse this decision and to bring the relevant Russian legislation into full compliance with international human rights standards.

LinkedIn stands accused of failing to comply with the 2014 amendments to the Law #152-FZ “On Personal Data,” requiring internet companies to store Russian citizens’ personal information on servers located on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Although some online companies have agreed to comply with the new requirement to localise data in Russia, many analysts believe this to be an unreasonable demand due to the prohibitive costs and technical difficulties involved. There is also a growing number of unjustified prosecutions against people posting on social media.

Based on this law, Roskomnadzor (a federal agency responsible for overseeing the media, including the electronic media, and mass communications, information technology and telecommunications) included LinkedIn on the list of the sites that does not comply with the legislation and decided to block it. This decision was subsequently confirmed on appeal by the Moscow City Court.

LinkedIn users build and maintain professional networks with whom they are able to freely communicate, share articles and professional resumes as well as join groups and discussions. Although less popular than other social networks, such as Facebook or V Kontakte, it constitutes a community of over 5 million registered users in Russia.

LinkedIn is the first online company to be targeted for blocking by the Roskomnadzor, purportedly because of problems with its security.

ARTICLE 19 rejects the use of blocking as a matter of principle. Nonetheless, we also argue that blocking can only ever be compatible with international standards on freedom of expression where, inter alia, court orders of blocking are limited in scope and strictly proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Lawful content should never be blocked and the courts must always consider whether the blocking order is the least restrictive means available to deal with the alleged unlawful activity, including an assessment of any adverse impact on the right to freedom of expression and information.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that these conditions were not met in the present case. The blocking of an entire social media platform for an unlimited period of time inevitably limits legitimate expression and is therefore unlikely to ever be justified. We call on the Roskomnadzor to immediately reverse its decision. We also urge the Russian Government to review its Internet legislation and bring it into full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.