Putin Greenlights Prison Phone Jamming to Combat Scams

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation Wednesday allowing phone companies to jam communication in prisons in order to prevent scams.

The legislation’s authors say that convicts use contraband cellphones to commit fraud and witness intimidation as well as control the actions of fugitive members of criminal organizations.

Under the newly signed amendments to Russia’s criminal and communications laws, Russia’s Federal Prison Service can now send phone companies a written request to jam specific phone numbers.

An explanatory note to the bill said authorities had seized more than 56,000 contraband phones and detained over 5,000 suspects across Russian penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers in 2018 alone.

A major bank had tallied some 280 fraudulent prison call centers that year, the Vedomosti business daily reported that year. The Interior Ministry had earlier said one-third of 38,000 cellphone crimes were committed by prisoners, according to the RBC news website.

Russia’s Central Bank estimates that Russians lost 6.5 billion rubles ($87.70) to fraud in the first nine months of 2020.

Security experts note an uptick in phone scams, as well as phishing and social engineering attacks this year due to coronavirus-related remote work and “simple but effective” methods of fraudulently soliciting payments.

Putin Grants Lifetime Immunity to Ex-Presidents and Their Families

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed into law a bill granting lifetime immunity from criminal prosecution to Russian presidents and their family members.

The law comes amid swirling questions over Putin’s future after his current term limit expires in 2024 and is part of sweeping constitutional reforms allowing Putin to ignore current limits and run for two more six-year presidential terms.

Under the new law, former presidents are immune from criminal or administrative prosecution and may not be detained, arrested or subject to searches, interrogations or bodily searches.

An ex-president can only be stripped of immunity if the State Duma brings charges of high treason or other felonies against him or her. If those charges are approved by the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, the Federation Council would then vote on whether or not to strip the ex-president of immunity within three months. If no decision is reached within three months, the charges are lifted.

When drafting the legislation this year, Russian lawmakers argued that similar laws already exist in other countries around the world.

Putin has not confirmed whether he will run for re-election in 2024. When asked about his post-2024 plans at his annual press conference last week, he said he will do what is in the country’s best interests.

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