June 14, 2017 / 2:19 PM / in 6 months

Russia eyes controlling soldiers' online accounts to boost secrecy

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Defense Ministry has drawn up a draft law allowing it to ban soldiers from posting certain personal data on social networks, something that reporters and researchers have used in the past to monitor Russia’s activities in Syria and Ukraine.

Moscow - Russia - 07/05/2017 - A Russian soldier salutes atop of a vehicle during a rehearsal before the World War II anniversary in Moscow. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The draft law, first reported on by the Russian daily Vedomosti on Wednesday, was published on Tuesday and has been reviewed by Reuters.

If approved by parliament and the president, it would allow the defense minister and other high-ranking officials to ban certain groups of servicemen from posting online information that could help identify or geolocate them.

Soldiers would also be obliged to routinely share information about their social media accounts with the authorities.

Despite strict legislation on state secrets, Russian soldiers regularly post sensitive data online.

British researcher Eliot Higgins, founder of the Bellingcat project, which uses open source data to investigate conflicts, says his team identified Russian soldiers involved in the fatal downing of the MH17 passenger plane over eastern Ukraine in 2014 by collecting evidence from social networks.

“You may not believe it but (Russia‘s) 53rd Air Defense Brigade has a social media page and all the soldiers follow it,” Higgins said at one of his presentations on the incident.

He said the information had been shared with the International Joint Investigation Team, the main body investigating the crash.

Russia denies any involvement in downing the plane.

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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