To avoid leaks and scandals like Edward Snowden’s, the Russian secret service is reportedly buying typewriters. Alarms went off at the FSO (Russian acronym for the country’s secret service) when it learned that the American whistleblower had stored all the data he leaked on a simple flash drive.
But beyond the obvious security implications, it would not be a surprise if Russia extended its low-tech push to other areas of government, judging by troubling precedents like the withdrawal of its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership and the prosecution of anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five years behind bars July 18.
Propping up efforts to bring greater transparency, like Navalny’s as a rationale for more secrecy in government is an absurd tactic. The Russian government should know better, especially after living under the draconian information laws of the former Soviet Union. By continuing to block transparency efforts, the government concedes it has something to hide– and citizens take notice, e.g., the massive, spontaneous demonstrations held yesterday in Moscow after the Navalny verdict show.
It is time for the Kremlin to learn its lesson: Government must not only engage its citizens, just like in the days of glasnost, but also commit to international standards of transparency and accountability. Typewriters are a thing of the past – just like the behind-the-scenes government practices that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The only way for Russia, now, is forward.