The US said it is "deeply concerned" over Russia's recent decision to block access to professional networking site LinkedIn. On Thursday (17 November), Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor ordered public access to LinkedIn's website to be blocked after a court upheld an earlier ruling that the US-based company failed to comply with Russian data protection rules.
"The United States is deeply concerned by Russia's decision to block access to the website LinkedIn," Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the US embassy in Moscow, told Reuters. "This decision is the first of its kind and sets a troubling precedent that could be used to justify shutting down any website that contains Russian user data."
She also added that Washington has asked Russia to immediately restore access to the site, saying the block has affected competition as well as Russian users.
The decision marks the first time a social media network has been blocked under the stringent new Russian law that mandates firms holding Russian citizens' digital data to store it on servers within Russia, Reuters reports.
Introduced in 2014, Russian authorities said the new regulations were created to protect Russian citizens' personal data. Roskomnadzor has audited almost 1,500 companies as of July since the law came into effect in 2015 to ensure compliance. Any company found in violation of the regulations would be placed on a blacklist by Roskomnadzor, have their websites blocked and fines levied on them. The watchdog found that LinkedIn was not in compliance with the law.
While critics have expressed concerns that the regulations are part of an attack on social media platforms in Russia, which has been increasing government control over the internet, local lawmakers have denied that it amounts to online censorship.
Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov said that the decision was taken by the two Russian courts, adding that the issue could still be settled.
"We hope a constructive dialogue can solve this situation," Nikiforov said. "All foreign companies have to act in line with the law and there are many that have no problems with respecting the legislation."
LinkedIn, which has more than 6 million registered Russian users, reportedly wrote in an email sent to local users that it regretted Russia's decision to block access to the platform and is currently seeking meetings with the telecommunications watchdog to resolve the issue.
"We are considering all possible ways to resolve this situation," the company's message read.