Sigh. Did you ever wonder if some people are actually crazy, or if they might be just too bone-idle to do the work necessary to appear informed? I mean, how much effort does it take to read up on the subject, and make sure you know what you’re talking about before you open your piehole? I realize it’s simpler to just bleat “Russian evil (insert subject here)”, but doesn’t that ever get old? For instance, the shrieking headline, “Russia to Introduce Draconian Minority-Report Style Law“. The yammering from the Crazy Castle was even more dramatic.
Well, let’s take a look at the “Minority Report” association first, because quite a few sources have picked up on that angle. According to the plot synopsis, “The future is seen and the guilty punished before the crime has ever been committed. From a nexus deep within the Justice Department’s elite Pre-Crime unit, all the evidence to convict – from imagery alluding to the time, place and other details – is seen by “Pre-Cogs,” three psychic beings whose visions of murders have never been wrong.” For the record, “Minority Report” was a dead boring film that couldn’t be forgotten fast enough, so video-store owners are doubtless grateful to the Russian government for making unsuspecting video buffs interested in checking it out. Go ahead, but you’ll be sorry.
Is the Russian government planning to introduce a precognitive anti-murder subunit to the FSB? For now, let’s settle for “No” and some muffled, snorting laughter, and look at it in a bit more detail later.
Most sources that somehow intuit that ordinary people are going to be arbitrarily fined or jailed for stuff they might be thinking about doing don’t bother to supply any text of the actual law. You’re supposed to trust their legal interpretation skills. Let’s don’t. Instead, let’s take a look at a couple of sources that do discuss the actual law in a fair amount of detail. Here’s one. And here’s another. Reading these, it becomes clear fairly early on that you will have to actually do something before anyone from the FSB will visit you – simply thinking about crime isn’t going to cut it. Further, we see it is a “recognition and codification of existing informal practice”. The FSB could already suggest, offline, that you better straighten up and fly right if you didn’t want to “have an accident”. Now they have to do it within a legal framework, to which the automatic right of appeal is now legally attached. Also, some provisions were removed from existing law, such as the FSB’s right to publish the text of official individual warnings in the mass media without the accused individual’s permission. The requirement to appear in person before the FSB to receive a warning was also removed.
Here’s the meat of the law, the bit that’s causing all the flap and hullaballoo.
“Disobeying the lawful orders or demands of a member of the FSB in connection with the execution of official duties, as well as interfering with the execution of official duties, is punishable by an administrative fine on citizens in the amount of 500-1,000 rubles or administrative arrest for a period up to fifteen days.”
Does that sound familiar? It should. “Disobeying the orders of an official in connection with the execution of his/her duties or interfering with the execution of his/her official duties” is codified in a familiar reference : Obstruction of Justice. Anyone disagree with that? Here’s the definition. Just for fun, let’s take a look at the potential penalty for Obstruction of Justice in the United States, beacon of democracy and icon of freedom. Wow. A fine of not more than $250,000.00 and/or imprisonment for not more than 15 years. Granted, those are maximums. So are the Russian figures; 1000 rubles and/or 15 days.
This might be an appropriate moment to review the definition of “draconian”. Hmmmm…. “exceedingly harsh, very severe”. So, let’s be sure we understand this. A law that says you can be warned if the government believes your demonstrated behaviour constitutes a risk to state security, and if you obstruct officials in the legal conduct of their duties, you are liable to be fined a maximum $1000 rubles ($33.64 USD) and/or detained for a maximum of 15 days is exceedingly harsh, and very severe. What’s a law that says you can be fined as much as a quarter-million in the same currency, and/or detained for as much as 15 years? Extra-draconian?
Let’s recall that Russia has recently been the victim of terrorist attacks, which have taken Russian lives – most recently in the Moscow subway , earlier in a Moscow theatre and going back to 1995. When that happens, pressure is brought to bear on the government to do something, and a predictable result is the tightening of security. Do other countries do the same? Sure. Measures introduced in the PATRIOT Act in the United States following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 granted the government the right to listen in on Americans’ telephone calls, read their email, search their homes or workplaces without their knowledge and while they were not present, read their library records and peek at what Internet sites they visited. Hey, that sounds draconian.
Tell you what; while we’re in the mood for discussing laws, let’s talk about one for journalists and the bloggers who cut and paste their stuff without doing any other research. It should say you’re not allowed to make shit up; if you do, you could be fined….oh, let’s say $33.64, and detained for up to 15 days. Sound fair?