Business travellers to Russia might want to keep their laptops and iPhones well-concealed - not from muggers, necessarily, but from the country's recently formed regulatory super-agency, Rossvyazokhrankultura (short for the Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service).
In the UK, Ofcom made deregulation one of its first priorities upon coming into existence, but the Russian equivalent is doing just the reverse, including an ominous-sounding policy of requiring registration for every Wi-Fi device and hotspot, according to a report this week from news agency Fontanka.
Rossvyazokhrankultura's interpretation of current law holds that users must register any electronics that use the frequency involved in Wi-Fi communications, said Vladimir Karpov, the deputy director of the agency's communications monitoring division, according to an English commentary provided by website The Other Russia.
Aside from public hotspots, the registration requirement also applies to home networks, laptops, smart phones and Wi-Fi-enabled PDAs, Karpov reportedly said. Registration only permits use by the owner.
His comments come as something of a surprise, since government decisions in 2004 and 2007 have tended to exempt Wi-Fi devices from any spectrum-related restrictions, according to the report.
On the other hand, Rossvyazokhrankultura is a new agency, formed last year by the merger of two separate agencies which formerly controlled media and telecommunications - not unlike Ofcom.
In this case, the merger appears to have created confusion and chaos, according to an anonymous IT expert cited in the report.
He noted that the head of the new body is a metallurgic engineer, and that the agency's remit now covers protecting cultural patrimony, registering mass-media outlets, control of legal compliance on personal data, monitoring communications and allocating radio frequencies, among other tasks.
"It is unlikely that he can simultaneously manage communications personnel, fine art experts, journalists and attorneys," the expert reportedly said.
Registration for personal devices is said to take 10 days, but registering a hotspot - including a home network - is more complicated, involving a set of documents and technological certifications.
Any networks in Moscow or St. Petersburg need the additional approval of two federal agencies, Karpov said.
"Setting up a home Wi-Fi network or a hotspot would require what sounds like vast amounts of paperwork, akin to putting a cell tower," commented wireless pundit Glenn Fleishman, in a blog post.
Even if Rossvyazokhrankultura fails to follow up on enforcing these rules, its comments are unlikely to improve Russia's image as a haven mainly for technology of a criminal nature.
In February, Sophos found that the country now deserves the moniker of ‘spam superpower’ having seen its share of total volumes rise dramatically over the last year, to put it in firmly in second place behind arch-rival, the US.
Russia is already prominent for other types of Internet criminality, such as malware and exploits, boosted by the near-mythical super-network, the Russian Business Network, which supposedly went out of business in November.
Techworld's John Dunn contributed to this report.
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