By Maria Kolomychenko and Polina Nikolskaya
Russian telecoms operators will have to use foreign technology to comply with a law on storing data, two industry sources with knowledge of the matter said, even though Vladimir Putin told his government to ensure local companies produced the equipment
The law requires operators to store the content of users’ phone calls and text messages for six months to aid the security services. President Putin wanted home-grown technology to be used to perform the task, to boost the domestic tech industry and make telecoms systems less dependent on Western equipment.
But faced with a tight deadline to start storing the vast amounts of information, and in the absence of suitable Russian hardware, operators will have no choice but to use equipment made by foreign firms including Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Huawei, according to the sources.
In having to resort to buying in hardware from abroad, Russia is encountering the same issues as other countries including the United States: the tech sector is a multinational endeavor and developing sophisticated systems using only home-grown gear is fraught with difficulties.
“It’s a good idea in theory to substitute imports, but you need to make a realistic assessment of the capacity of Russian firms,” said Irina Levova of Moscow-based independent think-tank the Institute for the Study of the Internet.
“The money spent implementing this law won’t stay in the Russian economy but will end up abroad.”
Adding to the problems besetting implementation of the law, no Russian telecoms operator has the necessary infrastructure in place, despite a July 1 deadline to start storing users’ data, according to the two telecoms industry sources.
One of the sources is a senior manager at a Russian telecoms operator, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The other is the general director of Norsi-Trans, a company that procures hardware for telecoms operators
Russia’s ministry for digital development and communications did not respond to a request for comment about the use of foreign hardware or about whether telecoms firms have the necessary infrastructure in place.
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov, responsible for telecoms, referred questions to the ministry for industry and trade. The ministry said Russian-made storage equipment had been tested this year and that it would seek to help local manufacturers competing against foreign firms.
There is no legal requirement for telecom operators to use Russian-made hardware to comply with the data rules, which are part of package of anti-terrorism legislation dubbed the Yarovaya laws after Irina Yarovaya, one of the sponsors in parliament.
Of Russia’s biggest operators, Rostelecom, Vimpelcom and MTS declined to comment about whether they would have to use foreign hardware to comply with the law, while Megafon and Tele2 did not respond to requests for comment.
When asked whether they had the necessary infrastructure in place, Vimpelcom, Rostelecom, and Megafon said their systems were still under development. MTS and Tele2 Russia declined to comment.
After signing the Yarovaya legislation into law in July 2016, Putin instructed his government to ensure that production of the equipment to store users’ data took place within Russia.
“This needs to be done swiftly. We need to fill up the order books of our own firms, especially since these are good, guaranteed orders,” Putin said at the time at a meeting with government ministers.
A handful of Russian companies are approved by the domestic intelligence service, the FSB, to provide combined systems of software and hardware that gather and store the contents of phone calls and text messages.
But the systems they are designing in most cases use foreign hardware to store the data, the two sources told Reuters.
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