Russia’s censorship agency asks Google to shut down ‘Smart Vote’ website

Following a complaint from a Yekaterinburg lawyer, Russia’s federal censorship agency, Roskomnadzor (RKN), has sent a letter to Google asking the company to halt technical support for the website of Alexey Navalny’s “Smart Vote” initiative. 

As reported by Kommersant, this was confirmed by RKN’s official response to the complaint, which the lawyer, Andrey Yelantsev, posted on Facebook.

In the post, Yelantsev — who heads the Reputatsiya Law Center — explained that he appealed to Roskomnadzor because according to the domain lookup tool WHOIS, “Smart Vote” uses servers located in the United States. According to the lawyer, the initiative’s users aren’t warned that their data is being processed in a “state unfriendly to Russia.” According to the “Smart Vote” website, the platform doesn’t collect data about users’ places of residence.

Roskomnadzor followed up on the complaint with Google, because the tech giant owns the domain, where the “Smart Vote” website is located. In its letter, RKN asked Google “to assist in taking measures to prevent the illegal processing of the personal data of Russian citizens by terminating technical support for the site.”

On Facebook, Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, wrote that Roskomnadzor is “blackmailing” Google because the censorship agency has failed to block the “Smart Vote” website for three years now. “If anything, Roskomnadzor has been asking Google for something similar every three months throughout all these years,” Volkov said.

Shortly after “Smart Vote” launched on the domain in 2018, Roskomnadzor began blocking its website in Russia on the grounds that it violated regulations on personal data storage. The “Smart Vote” website was then moved to a new address on the domain and continued operating. Roskomnadzor made no attempt to block the site after that.

Team Navalny used its “Smart Vote” strategy during various election campaigns in 2019 and 2020, including during the city duma elections in Moscow, Tomsk, and Novosibirsk.

In April 2021, a database with the email addresses of Navalny supporters who had registered with the website was made publicly available. Team Navalny confirmed the authenticity of the database and apologized for the leak. On May 31, Navalny’s associates announced that the St. Petersburg activist Fedor Gorozhanko, who worked for the FBK from 2016 to 2019, was involved in the data leak. Gorozhanko denies the allegations. 

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