- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Russian regulators have set their sights on LinkedIn as Moscow looks to enforce a 2015 data protection law for the first time in its history.

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet watchdog, wants the jobs site banned because it doesn’t comply with a provision requiring companies to store the personal data of Russian users on servers inside the country.

Tagansky District Court in Moscow authorized the ban in August, and LinkedIn filed an appeal scheduled to be heard on Nov. 10. Pending the outcome of that hearing, regulators may get their wish and officially bar the company from operating in Russia.

“This is the first company we are suing in court. In future we will use the same mechanism in relation to other companies,” Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonskiy told Russia’s TASS news agency on Wednesday, as translated by state-owned media.

The localization rule at the center of the potential ban took effect Sept. 2015, at which point all data operators were required under law to keep the information of Russian citizens on servers physically located within the country. Only now, however, are regulators reining in companies accused of noncompliance.

“We are seeking a court order to block LinkedIn. We twice sent requests in the summer, but they did not provide answers to our questions,” Mr. Ampelonskiy told TASS.

“If the appellate court upholds the judgment, and it will no longer be appealed, the decision will enter into force within 30 days. We will include the appropriate IP address in the register of violators of the personal data rights, which means blocking,” he explained.

LinkedIn has about 400 million users in all, with roughly 5 million of them — or 1 percent — registered in Russia. According to Mr. Ampelonskiy, those users are routinely having their personal information put at risk by data breaches suffered by the jobs site on an annual basis.

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

LinkedIn admitted earlier this year that more than 100 million of its customers had their personal information compromised in a cyberattack, and U.S. prosecutors announced charges last week against the hacker they believe to be responsible — 29-year-old Yevgeny Nikulin of Moscow.

Leonid Volkov, the head of the Internet Defense Society NGO, told The Moscow Times that Roskomnadzor may be testing the water by taking LinkedIn to court instead of a company with a more significant digital footprint.

“They want to show [other companies] that they can block someone,” Mr. Volkov said. “But they won’t ever be able to block Facebook.”

“If you block WhatsApp, there will be protests in the streets. You can’t do that before an election,” he told the newspaper. “LinkedIn isn’t popular and it hasn’t caught on [in Russia], but it’s important internationally.”

LinkedIn declined to comment when reached Wednesday by Fortune, where it was reported that the company has been in contact with regulators over the localization spat.

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