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MIT Technology Review

Russia is going to ban soldiers from using smartphones and social media on duty

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Active-duty Russian soldiers have been turning up in some awkward places—so the country’s parliament has voted to curtail their use of location-broadcasting devices and apps.

The new law: It states that military personnel are banned from posting about themselves or colleagues online, or using devices that can distribute audio, photo, video, or geolocation data via the internet. The State Duma voted through a final version of the draft law on Tuesday, and it will now pass to President Vladimir Putin for formal approval. It builds on previous measures in 2017 that ruled Russian soldiers should not share information online, including selfies.

Why? Security personnel and journalists have been able to use social-media posts by Russian troops to gain insight into the country’s military involvement in Syria and in Ukraine. Sometimes their findings have directly contradicted official information from the Russian government. An explanatory note attached to the bill specifically mentioned the recent military campaign in Syria, according to the New York Times. It will also make it harder to back up claims of hazing, bullying, and arcane initiation practices that are still common for new recruits in Russia.

Going phone-free: Smartphone bans can be difficult to enforce—phones are small devices that can easily escape notice. And they’re ubiquitous. If any institution can enforce such a ban, though, it might be the Russian military. Fear of disciplinary measures and the risk of instant dismissal may be enough to keep the troops in line.

The logic behind it: Although the law might seem like overkill, it makes sense to be wary of the devices soldiers are using. Internet-connected gadgets can always pose a security risk, as the US military embarrassingly learned almost exactly a year ago when it turned out personnel had been accidentally leaking the locations and layouts of bases via the Strava fitness app.