Social networks and messenger apps that fail to request documents, addresses, and other identifying information from users setting up accounts could face fines under a draft law being prepared by Russia’s communications regulator.

The proposed amendments to personal data and privacy laws were published on Tuesday by government agency Roskomnadzor, which oversees online platforms. Under the plans, which are yet to be formalized, internet sites would have to collect passport details, phone numbers, street addresses, and emails when registering new users.

Data could be collected directly through a sign-up page, or through a standard ‘unified information system’ portal developed by Roskomnadzor. If companies fail to comply with these requirements, they could face fines of up to 100,000 rubles (USD$1,300), but existing users and accounts would be exempt from the rules.

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In 2018, Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker from the governing United Russia party, put forward a bill that would require passports when setting up social media accounts. This would prevent underage users accessing the platforms without parental consent, and being potentially exposed to groups that cause “harm to the moral and spiritual development” of children, he said.

However, the latest draft measures have been criticized by privacy campaigners as a worrying step towards more online surveillance. Speaking to Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper, Mikhail Tretyak, of the digital rights group Roskomsvoboda said that “neither Roskomnadzor nor social networks need such a volume of data if they do not plan to transfer it to law enforcement agencies or make money from it through advertising.”

Earlier this month, the Russian media regulator began slowing connection speeds on Twitter in the country over claims the San Francisco-based firm “does not remove content that incites minors to commit suicide, [and] contains child pornography or information about the use of drugs.” This could lead to a total ban on the service within weeks if it fails to comply with demands to take down illicit posts, the officials say.

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At the same time, President Vladimir Putin warned that social media sites are being used “to promote completely unacceptable content: for the distribution of child pornography, prostitution, for driving minors to suicide.” He called for tough action on those using the internet to harm young people.

Anonymous accounts with no clear link to the person behind the screen have caused concern in a number of countries because of their frequent use for trolling and harassment. In Britain, a petition demanding the government ban accounts and verify users gained more than 15,000 signatures. In a response, officials said that “being anonymous online does not give anyone the right to abuse others,” and a review of whether to introduce new measures is due to conclude in early 2021.

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