Spooked by the National Security Agency's digital spying programs, the Russian government has decided to go retro.
Izvestia reports that the Federal Guard Agency — Russia's equivalent to the Secret Service — has placed in order for $15,000 worth of electric typewriters. Quoting an unnamed source within the agency, it described the government's efforts to cut down on electronic communications in an attempt to prevent sensitive material from falling into the wrong hands.
"After scandals with the distribution of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the exposes by Edward Snowden, reports about [Russian Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev being listened in on during his visit to the G20 summit in London, it has been decided to expand the practice of creating paper documents."
This technological reversion makes it clear that the Kremlin is still longing for the days when invisible ink and shortwave radio still dominated the international espionage scene, and Russian intelligence technology rivaled the CIA's.
In fact, it seems that at least some top Russian officials never left that era behind. Izvestia's source notes that many critical government organizations, including the Defense Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry, and Security Services, have never switched over to electronic documents.
Image courtesy of John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
"From the point of view of ensuring security, any form of electronic communication is vulnerable," Nikolai Kovalev, a member of the Russian Parliament and former head of the Federal Security Service (the successor to the KGB) told Izvestia.
"Any information can be taken from computers," he said. "Of course there are means of protection, but there is no 100% guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of keeping secrets, the most primitive method is preferred: a human hand with a pen or a typewriter."
Kovalev has a point. According to document leaks made public by Edward Snowden via The Guardian, the NSA's PRISM program taps information from dozens of American tech giants, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Verizon, Yahoo, Skype, and AOL.
What's more, even encrypted communications aren't necessarily safe from prying eyes at the NSA. In recent years, Microsoft has collaborated closely with U.S. intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, reports The Guardian. Microsoft even helped the NSA to circumvent its own encryption procedures on Outlook.com, and helped give the NSA easier access to Skype calls.
Coincidentally or not, it seems that tech companies have been pushing us to upload more and more of our documents to the cloud. Popular services like Microsoft's SkyDrive, Apple's iCloud, and Google Drive all offer to store our digital documents online for convenient access — but at what price?
Given that we now know Big Brother is really is watching at all times, is the Russian government's instinct to fight technological progress really so crazy?
Ironically, the NSA PRISM scandal brings a whole new dimension of meaning to all those "In Soviet Russia" jokes. President Putin is probably sitting in the Kremlin right about now and having a good laugh at our expense.
"Hey, Nikolai, check this one out: In post-Soviet Russia, you use computer. In America, computer use you!"
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic who probably should have written this article on a typewriter.