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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Two years ago, we passed a law to provide electronic services to the public. In the first phase, as we know, this applied only to the federal government.
From July 1, 2012, our regional colleagues should have joined this effort. Originally we said that the second phase will be much more complex.
You held a regional post until recently being Minister in Tatarstan. Tatarstan is an advanced region in this sense, including through your efforts, but all the same, this as probably not an easy task to accomplish even there, because the amount of work required at the regional level is very high.
How do you assess the situation? How did this drive begin in the Russian regions and what steps do we need to take to make sure that the progress is made at the required rate?
Communications and Mass Media Minister Nikolai Nikiforov: Mr President, the work was launched on July 1, when the law took effect, but I must note that at the outset it was very uneven. Today we have the leading regions that receive a large number of information requests in electronic format, which means that people do not have to make the rounds of all the offices, ministries, agencies, etc to collect the paperwork they need. On the other hand, we also have regions where the work is just beginning. Of course, this can be attributed to the summer period, when the whole country slows down, but there is no such generally slow period in September, in autumn, and therefore, this work should be proceeding at full speed.
We have summarised what has been achieved, ensured full availability of services at the federal level because the exchange of information takes place at many levels: regions send inquiries to federal agencies, and federal agencies ask regional and municipal agencies. Today we are closely monitoring statistics.
What is important is that the law is on the side of the public, and those regions, those officials that are not yet ready in terms of technology to implement this work are forced to collect information in paper form themselves. It is not the people but the state agencies that have to run around collecting documents. Thus, the burden is imposed on them.
Vladimir Putin: Are you sure that is exactly what happens?
Nikolai Nikiforov: We have created a special website where people can report on specific cases, such as when a wrongful demand was made to show one certificate or another, and we follow these reports through with our colleagues in the regions and at federal agencies. Thus, we have feedback and the situation is getting better but more is to be done.
One of the key problems is the digital divide in our country today. If we look at the Ministry’s priorities as a whole, we can see that this is the main goal and the most ambitious task facing our Ministry. In Moscow about six out of ten households are already connected to the Internet and, therefore, people have no trouble using electronic services. The statistics for the whole country show that only three out of ten households have the Internet, which is less than about 30%. And our challenge is to eliminate this gap.
Vladimir Putin: This raises another issue: the security of personal data.
Nikolai Nikiforov: Absolutely, despite the fact that legislation in this area has been adopted, it must be said that today there is no effective mechanism for imposing serious penalties on the operators of personal data (I mean primarily legal entities, such as banks, insurance companies and medical facilities), and for imposing administrative liability today. Therefore, a whole set of regulations has been drafted that will grant the agency responsible for oversight in this area – the Federal Supervision Service for Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor ) – additional powers of prosecution.
Today, this process extends over many stages: Roskomnadzor conducts a preliminary investigation, forwards it to the prosecutor’s office, and later the case goes to court. This takes such a long time that the statute of limitations is often exceeded. We want to tighten this procedure and thus show everyone who processes personal data (which is about 300,000 different entities in our country), that handling information, especially personal data, is a big responsibility, including financial. Until this mechanism begins to work, the current attitude will prevail. Such amendments to the normative act have already been drafted. We look forward to their early adoption.
Vladimir Putin: Please give this matter due consideration. You must bring this work to completion.
I have another question in this context. I want to return to the first part of our conversation: what is the responsibility of the regional authorities if they do not develop electronic services and do not implement the laws adopted last year?
Nikolai Nikiforov: First of all, they have to collect information for the applicants themselves; they have to do it in paper form, and it is physically impossible to cope with such a workload.
Vladimir Putin: They can force people to collect the paperwork themselves.
Nikolai Nikiforov: The law provides for administrative fines. Fortunately, it also stipulates the mechanism of pre-trial settlement. We believe that there must be a certain amount of mutual understanding. There has to be a transitional period: the whole country cannot go over to this system in a single day.
The administrative penalties stipulated are quite serious: several tens of thousands of rubles for each fact of demanding an applicant bring a certificate. Thus, if a particular official wrongfully demands a certificate several dozen times per day, the fine will be very substantial.
Vladimir Putin: We must get the information about what is happening in this sphere around the country, to monitor and analyse it. After that I ask you to submit your proposals, and if necessary we will make some amendments to the law to make sure that it is effective. Keep this issue under control.