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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Provider Wins Suit Against FSB Attempt to Spy

The first Internet service provider in Russia to have its license revoked by federal authorities for refusing to implement an electronic spy network has won a suit it filed challenging the power of the Federal Security Service to monitor the net.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, earlier this year revoked the license of Volgograd Internet provider Bayard-Slavia after the company's director, Nail Murzakhanov, took steps to sue the agency for attempting to control his business and eavesdrop on his clients.

On Aug. 23, the Volgograd prosecutor's office overturned the FSB decision to shut down Bayard-Slavia, saying the decision was unfounded.

Murzakhanov isn't celebrating quite yet, however. He and his legal team, which includes Boris Pustyntsev, chairman of St. Petersburg's Citizens' Watch, say the real test is just beginning and the KGB successor agency will find another way to keep him from providing unmonitored Internet service to his clients.

"This doesn't mean that the pressure's off. They'll try to tackle him from another angle," Pustyntsev said.

It appears that Pustyntsev is right. Despite the landmark ruling by the Volgograd prosecutor's office, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Russia, Bayard-Slavia is not yet able to resume operations. Its satellite connection, which is the backbone of its business, was disconnected earlier this year at the request of the state telecommunications committee and the FSB - and remains unplugged.

In May, Murzakhanov's Internet network was shut off without warning after the telecoms committee disconnected the satellite channel that Bayard-Slavia leased from a larger provider, Moscow Teleport.

The committee said the cutoff was due to "improper formulation" of the company's channel-leasing contract - a violation committed by Moscow Teleport, which the committee says must reformulate its leasing agreements.

But Murzakhanov, who has been fighting what he considers an illegal and unconstitutional attempt by the FSB to monitor and control his clients' Internet activity, says the contract violation is only an excuse to suspend his operations.

Bayard-Slavia is one of the few Internet service providers, or ISPs, in Russia to refuse to comply with the tenets of SORM-2, a technical regulation issued jointly last July by the FSB and the state telecommunications committee.

The regulation, which may eventually enable the FSB to freely access and monitor Internet communications without a warrant, requires Russian ISPs to furnish the technical upgrades and expertise necessary to reroute all transmissions directly to the FSB in real time.

When Murzakhanov failed to cooperate, he was served with an FSB "realization plan" detailing the terms of SORM-2 compliance - backed up, he said, with personal threats. He retaliated on his own, assembling a team of prominent St. Petersburg lawyers and human rights activists who sent appeals to the Volgograd prosecutor's office.

A letter from Prosecutor Vladimir Solovyev, dated Aug. 23, states that the decision to revoke Bayard-Slavia's operating license was an "unfounded resolution," and that the decision had been overturned.

But Bayard-Slavia is still not operational, despite the ruling.

"It's a small victory," Pustyntsev said. "They're [the FSB] intent on punishing him [Murzakhanov] and I'm sure his license will still be withdrawn in the end."

Pustyntsev said the prosecutor's decision was based on the fact that this case was well publicized. "They [the FSB] know they must watch their steps because of the publicity."

But reconnecting the leased satellite channel with Moscow Teleport remains a big problem.

As Bayard-Slavia's case unfolded, it appeared that Moscow Teleport had in fact "improperly formulated" its contracts with all of its sub-providers, Pustyntsev said. But only Bayard-Slavia's channel was disconnected.

Murzakhanov and his legal team accuse Moscow Teleport of being too accommodating to the FSB. In a letter sent to Bayard-Slavia in late May, and shown to The St. Petersburg Times, the directors of Moscow Teleport advised Murzakhanov that "everything is going to be fine, but we urge you not to speak to reporters or human rights groups as a certain agency would not appreciate it."

"Moscow Teleport is the right hand of the FSB," Murzakhanov said.

Pustyntsev said Moscow Teleport must now reformulate all its sub-provider contracts and "they won't make Murzakhanov a priority."

No one at Moscow Teleport was available for comment this week.

Meanwhile, Murzakhanov fears that the threats to his business, as well as the personal threats will continue to mount, while those who sympathize with his cause to fight the FSB's unconstitutional actions are growing fewer in number.

"Everyone's afraid of me and they are being pressured by the FSB not to associate with me," Murzakhanov said.