There are several things one might be intimidated by when traveling to Russia, but you may not have considered the Russian government themselves. They have the legal right to take all your electronic information, messages and files sent and received via the Internet. This includes email, texts, files, images…Anything you send or receive using your computer, cell phone or tablet is fair game.
No Russian cyber privacy
How can this be you may ask? They call it S.O.R.M aka Nation State or System for Operational Investigative Activities.
“S.O.R.M. Lawfully enables authorities to monitor, record, analyze and retain all data that traverses Russian networks.”
You have no expectation of privacy in public or private venues to include: “Hotel rooms, meeting rooms, offices, residences, cars and taxis. In addition to this, emails, telephone calls including mobile phones, internet sessions, WIFI movement, text messages and fax transmissions are all subject to interception and having the information monitored and stored.
Items such as unattended computers or other electronic devices may be searched without consent or knowledge of the owner. Intellectual property and other sensitive information may be taken, shared with competitors and/or Russian legal entities.”
This may all sound like “big brother” or even a bit like what Americans are currently concerned about regarding our own government’s actions but in contrast, Russia is up front with this policy and citizens have no choice.
Of great concern during the Sochi Olympics is our own coverage of the games and the flow of communications news networks will have with their own staff back in the States. All that information, some potentially sensitive, will be captured and potentially used by the Russian government. That is how their law reads.
Another alarming note is the verbiage “Items such as unattended computers or other electronic devices may be searched without consent or knowledge of the owner.” Does this mean they (Whoever “they” are) can come into your hotel room and access your unattended computer, download its contents and leave without ever asking you or even telling you? Well, that is how their law reads.
So some words of advice to the Sochi Olympic traveler or even just a traveler to Russia, you may want to leave your personal computer and cell phone at home. Consider buying a “pay as you go” cell phone when you arrive or at the very least, taking a clean phone and a computer that does not contain your personal information, e.g. passwords, photos and bank account information which most people have stored in their devices.
Sochi Pick Pockets are the best in the world
Some may feel that “pick pocketing” is something from the past or maybe images of “Oliver Twist” come to mind but be aware, in fact be very aware, pick pocketing is not only a very real threat to tourists and the unaware but Russia is known to have the best in the world.
Many pick pockets work alone, making the smallest footprint possible which makes it easy for them to move on the fly however in Russia, many if not most, work in groups and are very coordinated in their movements around their targets. Their coordinated efforts include all sorts of tactics to include leaving money on the ground for you to see and pick up, which starts a chain reaction of movements stealthily choreographed to take your belongings.
Consider a few things when traveling to Sochi, Russia or frankly anywhere. Do not travel or walk alone, walk with your head up and always watch the people around you. Do not be afraid of making eye contact or talking to people as you pass them, even if only to politely acknowledge them. Its a bit psychological but human predators are less likely to target you if you are alert, aware and moving with purpose. They are even less likely to target you if it is clear you have seen or noted them.
Do not walk around with your purse open, where its easy to reach in or you wallet in your back pocket. Consider cross strapping your purse, keeping it closed and maybe keep the pouch portion in the front of your body, not the back. The idea is to make it very difficult to access. Small measures quickly changes the mind of the predator from you to elsewhere. Stay alert and move with purpose. There are many other things you can do to stay safe and aware and these are just minor examples.
Health in Sochi
On another note, one of the major health concerns in Sochi is the water. The water is not potable. Do not, for any reason, drink the water from any tap source and this goes for ice cubes too. There has also been a growing problem with Tuberculosis and Hepatitis A, even in major cities so take all necessary precautions before you arrive.
For more information and safety tips on traveling in Russia or attending the Sochi Olympic Games 2014, visit:
United States State Department
SOCOG (Sydney Organizing Committee for Olympic Games) – Also handling logistics for the SOCHI Winter Olympics.
SOCHI Winter Olympic 2014
Sochi Media Center