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Report: Russian authorities will monitor journalists activity

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

Will the Russian government be bullying the journalists? (USATSI)
Will the Russian government use a 'bully tactic' against journalists? (USATSI)

In an effort to keep track on as much as human activity as possible at the Sochi Games, a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists states Russian authorities will monitor journalists covering the event.

This means "telephone and Internet data" falls under the umbrella of a government-sanctioned order that went into effect last November. Though they are specifically under "particular emphasis," journalists are not being singled out here: athletes, organizers, pretty much anyone affiliated with the Games and interacting within the "Ring of Steel" will be subject to big brother-like watch from the Russian government.

The decree says Russian authorities will be monitoring organizers and participants, including members of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, domestic Olympic committees, as well as athletes, team doctors, and technical assistants -- even referees. A special clause lists foreign news agencies and media outlets. Another one deals with accredited journalists and photographers. The decree provides for the creation of a database of telecommunication users -- from Internet service subscribers to Wi-Fi users in public locations -- complete with their identities.
The information contained in those users' Olympic and Paralympic identity cards will be collected in the database. The database will also contain "data on payments for communications services rendered, including connections, traffic, and subscriber payments."

The controversy within lies in the fact that those in power will have access to phone records and communications between journalists and other sources. This problem was exactly what spurred the firestorm regarding the phone hacking scandal with the News of the World newspaper, among others. (Though that scandal did not involve oversight from government officials.)

Some consider the tactic a bullying one from the Russian government, which is staunch in its attitude toward homosexuality and has warned against human rights protests in Sochi. Plenty of Russian journalists feel they've been repressed by their own government, according to one report.

“If the media cover the LGBT rights in anything that resembles a sympathetic way, they could be blamed with producing gay propaganda and punished for it,” Konstantin Iablotckii, a Moscow-based LGBT activist, told the CPJ. “Better to play it safe.”

"With their announcement about gathering metadata during the Games, Russian authorities made clear that all communications would be transparent to the secret services, namely the Federal Security Service," according to the report. "In addition, the FSB is allowed to keep the data in its possession and analyze it for a three-year period after the Games."

The coverage of the coverage of this year's Winter Games is becoming as much of a story as the Games themselves.

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