Secret Police on the Nyet

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MOSCOW: Citizens, be on guard: The Internet is among us. And Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), heir to the KGB's tradition of high-tech snooping, means to defend the motherland from it. A draft regulation, code-named Sorm (for "system of ensuring investigative activity"), would require all Internet service providers to install a special device in their main computers to track subscribers' e-mail and activities on the Net. Using fiber optic cable, the FSB would monitor subscribers' web doings in real time, according to the London Guardian. No pesky search warrants or approval by parliament necessary. Outward flow of Russian intellectual property cut off. Possible hefty tax on ISPs pocketed. Mission accomplished.

But it's not just newsgroups and human rights activists who've gone on the warpath over Sorm, notes TIME's Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. Big business is wielding a tomahawk too. "The big bankers and businessmen could be enough to sink it all," Meier observes. "With the amount of economic crime going on here, computer security is a top concern -- they're not going to just hand over control of their internal firewalls." And in a country where big business is credited with engineering President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 political comeback from the grave, big bucks might yet prevail over Big Brother.