Lawmakers have backed a bill to boost Russia's security service, allowing it to issue warnings to people it believes are about to commit a crime, but rights groups said the KGB's successor agency was already too powerful.
Kremlin critics say the Federal Security Service (FSB), formerly headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, could use its additional powers to target and intimidate opposition groups.
The new law, which passed its second reading in the Duma lower house of parliament on Friday, gives the FSB the right to issue warnings to people "whose acts create the conditions for the committing of a crime".
Supporters of the bill say this would reduce crime and help people to realise what they are doing is potentially illegal.
The FSB was formed from the remains of the KGB, which was broken up in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed. Its influence grew greatly after Putin became president in 2000 and ordered it to lead the fight against Islamist rebels.
Rights groups and opposition journalists accuse the government of also using the FSB to pressure its critics, and say that the new law undermines President Dmitry Medvedev's promises to foster civil rights.
The law fails to spell out legal consequences of receiving a warning and its vagueness will invite abuse, they add.
"The right to issue warnings does not specify who exactly and on what grounds can be warned, and therefore it will allow FSB officials in the field to interpret the law as they feel it is needed," said Andrei Stolbunov, lawyer and head of the Spravedlivost human rights organisation.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Russia's leading human rights activist, said the bill gives the FSB a new legal weapon. "Long before this bill, the FSB did whatever it wanted to, but now their activities were consecrated by the law," Alexeyeva said.
The bill was significantly watered down after the first reading after an outcry from normally loyal opposition parties.
Lawmakers removed from the original text proposed by the government a provision that would have allowed the FSB to summon people and impose up to 15 days in prison as punishment for any refusal to come, according to a text posted on Duma's website.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 12 Temmuz 2010, 18:45