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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian FSB Goes After Web Providers

A Ukrainian domain registration company has vowed to fight an attempt by the country's federal security service to muscle in on its territory and take over its operations.

President Leonid Kuchma's Cabinet recently issued an order transferring Hostmaster's right to register Internet addresses and domains in the .ua national domain to a group of organizations including the SBU, the country's successor agency to the KGB.

Hostmaster said it would contest the order and filed a suit last Wednesday to that effect in Kiev.

Civic watchdog groups have expressed concern that the move was an attempt to clamp down on Internet freedoms ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Petitioned by the SBU, the State Communications Committee and a small group of Internet service providers, the Cabinet gave those groups the go-ahead to form the Ukrainian Network and Information Center, intended to assume Hostmaster's authority over .ua domain names. So far, Hostmaster has registered over 100,000 sites.

The Kiev International Institute of Sociology estimates that there are 3.2 million Internet users in Ukraine, or 8 percent of the population.

The Cabinet order tasked the communications committee with preparing by Aug. 2 the paperwork necessary for ICANN, a California-based international regulation body, to recognize the center as the guardian of the .ua domain.

Hostmaster reacted sharply to the initiative, saying the decision violated a host of laws, not least among them commercial legislation forbidding government interference in the private affairs of business.

"This is an extremely incompetent and clumsy move by the authorities that shows their low level of professionalism and blatant disregard for legislation," Hostmaster director Boris Mostovoi said by telephone from Kiev last week.

If Hostmaster's authority is transferred to the new state information center, it would mean an SBU-backed organization would be in a position to decide who can and cannot operate Ukrainian web sites. "This worries me," Mostovoi said.

Government interference in the Internet is nothing new to the states of the former Soviet Union.

Russia has seen its own fair share of security service meddling. The State Duma in 1995 approved SORM legislation, an abbreviation for System for Operational-Investigative Activities, and more legislation was passed in 1998, dubbed SORM-2, that gave the security services the physical capability to monitor the Internet.

The FSB started forcing Internet service providers, or ISPs, to install the SORM-2 equipment at their own expense in 1998. SORM monitoring equipment at ISP offices is then attached to a cable leading straight back to FSB headquarters at the Lubyanka, giving the agency access to watch all web traffic.

"The equipment is installed at the ISP, but law enforcement agencies need to get a court order to ask the ISP to turn it on," an FSB spokesman said. "In this way, user's rights are protected from abuse."

In Ukraine, an SBU spokesman said the Cabinet's push for more state oversight was a "reorganization rather than a violation" of Internet freedoms.