Russia’s communications surveillance system, SORM, the Russian acronym for the System of Operative Investigative Measures, has required all telecom providers to install equipment that feeds all traffic directly to security agencies. Their officers are required by law to have a court sanction for eavesdropping, but they don’t have to show it to anyone.
“The system … is very intrusive,” Soldatov said, “much more intrusive than in the West.”
Official papers have suggested that the SORM system in Sochi has been modernized to cope with the heavy flow of communications during the games, but officials have said little about the details.
Earlier this year, the Communications Ministry issued a directive urging all communications companies to introduce new equipment capable of intercepting mail traffic on Gmail and Yahoo.
Soldatov said that in addition to terrorists, authorities may be looking to filter out protesters.
A controversial Russian law banning gay “propaganda” has drawn broad international criticism, and activists may be planning protests in Sochi despite an official ban on all rallies.
The Russian government also has invested heavily into other means of surveillance, installing some 5,500 closed-circuit cameras throughout Sochi and buying a fleet of drones. The drones could be particularly handy for quickly spotting anyone attempting to break an official ban on protest in Sochi.
Months before the games, security agencies have moved to expel some of those whom they consider unwelcome. In particular, police have conducted sweeping document checks among thousands of migrant workers who were recruited to build Olympic facilities and deported many, drawing criticism from rights groups.
Critics compared the measures to the Soviet actions ahead of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, when the KGB simply sent all those deemed suspicious out of the capital.
Police in Sochi have conducted methodical house-to-house checks to screen residents and advised those who lack permanent registration in the city to leave.
Police and other security agencies have run dozens of drills to prepare for possible emergencies. The latest involved several dozen people posing as terrorists to check the readiness of security agencies and the vigilance of the population. The exercises also involved checking all cars at entry points to the area, exasperating motorists who spent hours in traffic jams.
Cassandra Vinograd in London and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.