- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Russian court on Thursday agreed to ban access to the website LinkedIn over its failure to comply with a 2015 law requiring internet companies to store the data of Russian users on servers physically located within the country.

The Moscow city court’s ruling will likely take effect next week, a spokesman for the Russian government’s internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said Thursday, at which point LinkedIn will become the first foreign website banned in Russia for violating last year’s controversial data localization law.

“As soon as we receive a declaration of intent from the court, we will include LinkedIn.com on the register of violators of the right of data privacy and forward notification of blocking the resource to the operators,” Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonskiy told Interfax.

Tagansky District Court in Moscow initially authorized the ban in August in response to a complaint brought by Roskomnadzor, but LinkedIn appealed to a higher court which ultimately upheld the ruling with this week’s decision.

“The decision of the Tagansky District Court has been upheld, the appeal by LinkedIn Corporation is unsatisfactory,” Interfax quoted the latest court decision as saying.

LinkedIn has roughly 400 million users in all, with around 5 million of them — or 1 percent — registered in Russia. Mr. Ampelonskiy, the Roskomnadzor spokesman, said previously that the millions of Russian citizens who use LinkedIn routinely have their personal information put at risk as a result of routine data breaches suffered by the jobs site in recent years.

“They have a bad track record: Every year there’s a major scandal about the safety of user data,” he told The Moscow Times last month.

Since September 2015, all internet companies that keep information on Russian users have been required to store that data in servers housed within the country’s borders. Moscow has said the rule helps prevent Russian citizens from having their personal information compromised by hackers, but critics claim the law only furthers the Kremlin’s effort to tighten control over the internet.

LinkedIn may be able to appeal Thursday’s ruling, court spokeswoman Ulyana Solopova told The Associated Press.

“LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for the entire global workforce,” the company said in a statement in response to Thursday’s ruling. “The Russian court’s decision has the potential to deny access to LinkedIn for the millions of members we have in Russia and the companies that use LinkedIn to grow their businesses. We remain interested in a meeting with Roskomnadzor to discuss their data localization request.”

Despite being the first company banned in Russia for violating the law, Roskomnadzor’s head Alexander Zharov insisted earlier this week that regulators weren’t specifically singling out the U.S. website.

“We are planning to make [the dispute with LinkedIn] an absolutely ordinary case,” he said. “Since LinkedIn has ignored our letters when we were inviting them to discuss the issue of personal data localization; and after a few letters [we] were forced to go to court.”

“This is the first company we are suing in court. In future we will use the same mechanism in relation to other companies,” Mr. Ampelonskiy, the Roskomnadzor spokesman, said previously.

Roskomnadzor has checked 1,500 companies for compliance with the data localization law since it went into effect in 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“I’m not going to name the names of the companies since this is to a large extent commercial information but major internet giants are in the process of complying with the law,” Mr. Zharov told the newspaper.

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