These badges were created by Russian LiveJournal users who are very suspicious (to put it mildly) of a new partnership between SixApart's LiveJournal and the Russian Internet company SUP. I learned about this controversy by reading Veronica Khokholva's latest post over at Global Voices Online. She writes:
The Russian-language blogosphere (commonly known as ZheZhe) is on fire: some users are shutting down their blogs, others are emigrating to the virtual Trinidad & Tobago - all because LiveJournal.com's owner Six Apart has decided to team up with the Russian internet company Sup, founded this year by Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian "oligarch," and Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur.
Assurances from managers of Six Apart and Sup have left many unconvinced and still concerned over whether the Russian security services would gain access to their personal information and whether the new Abuse Team would carry out ruthless purges.
[read the whole thing here]
Apparently there is a certain element of anti-Semitisim coming from some of the ethnic Russian LJ users which is of course very bad. But there is another issue at play here which I think really needs to be taken seriously: local users don't trust local internet companies not to sell them out to Russian security forces. One Six Apart employee tried to assuage Russian LJ users' fears in this post. She answers a number of questions, including this one:
* Will information from these journals be given to the Russian government? Personal information?
* Will they have access to Russian users' private account information?
* Is SUP under any legal obligation to keep users' information confidential?
Yes, they are. They don't own any information, and they can't reuse it in any way not covered by our policies.
One thing isn't clear: will Russian LJ user data now be housed in Russia? If so then it is definitely subject to Russian legal jurisdiction. I am no expert in Russian law, but the question is, does the Russian legal system define "crime" in a way that is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Or not? Does the Russian legal system guarantee the right to free speech (article 19)? In practice as well as on paper? Or not? Seems like LJ's Russian users don't think so. If they are right, then compliance with a court-ordered subpoena could result in the suppression of peaceful political speech and in the violation of human rights.
One needs only to look at Yahoo's experience in China to see how the path to evil is paved, if not with good intentions, then at least with failures to think things through. Yahoo also promises not to share Chinese user info to except in cases where it is obligated to do so by local law. The problem is that the Chinese legal system defines "crime" in such a way that criticism of the government is also included. As a result, Chinese political dissidents have gone to jail because Yahoo was required to hand over user information in compliance with Chinese law.
Could the same thing happen in Russia under LiveJournal auspices? I don't know enough about where and how LJ is storing user data, or about Russian law, to know the answer. But it seems like many Russian LJ users think the answer is "yes."
It will be interesting to see how seriously this user trust problem is taken by SixApart, LJ, and their Russian partner Sup.