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Why FSB is not the KGB!

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Reprinted from openDemocracy.net.

Summary: Last month amendments were passed to the law codifying the FSB's surveillance of those citizens deemed to be threats to national security. Nicolai N. Petro, unlike some Western commentators, sees these as potentially making Russia's domestic security procedures among the world's most transparent.


A series of amendments to the law on Russia's main domestic security agency, better known by its Russian initials FSB, was signed into law last month. These amendments codify a practice that security agencies all over the world typically like to shroud in secrecy--the surveillance of private citizens who are deemed potential threats to national security. Specifically, they give the FSB the ability to issue official warnings to individuals whose activities, while still legal, are deemed to verge on criminal acts that endanger national security.


Critics of these amendments have highlighted their potential for abuse. While this is always a potential concern, the assertion that they "restore Soviet era powers to the Federal Security Service" (the AP report by Mansur Mirovalev, "Russia grants more powers to KGB successor agency" of July 29 is one example), seems highly exaggerated and sensationalist. If anything, these new amendments have the potential to increase judicial oversight of such surveillance, potentially making Russia's domestic security procedures among the world's most transparent.


To understand why one must not forget how very different Soviet and modern Russian society are, especially when it comes to a citizen's access to information.


A search on google.ru for sites containing the specific phrase "zakonoproekt o polnomochiakh FSB" ("draft law on powers of the FSB" in English) yields more than 25,000 hits. This includes hundreds of published articles about these amendments, most of them highly critical. Moreover, the entire legislative history of the law, including the committee recommendations and debates over the course of its three readings in Russia's parliament, can be found online at several law-related web sites, as well as on the Duma's own legislative web site.

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)
 

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