Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, attending a Moscow forum on Internet entrepreneurship in June. Reuters

MOSCOW—Russia’s parliament sped up measures to tighten control over foreign Internet companies such as Google Inc., Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., raising concerns over state pressure on social networks that have become one of the country’s few remaining spaces for dissent.

The DumaRussia’s lower chamber of parliament, passed a bill Wednesday that would move up the deadline of a law requiring foreign Internet companies to store the personal data of users from Russia within the country’s borders. The deadline, moved to Jan. 1, 2015, from Sept. 1, 2016, would create a near-impossible challenge for U.S.-based firms that have millions of Russian users but generally store data on servers outside the country.

Russian authorities have presented the personal-data law as a necessary security measure to protect against foreign threats and U.S. spying. But rights advocates say the Kremlin is pursuing the measure as part of a broader drive to curtail freedom of information and intensify scrutiny of Internet activity.

The accelerated effort comes amid Moscow’s increasing distrust of the Internet and a hardening of anti-Western policies. Authorities are separately proceeding with legislation to limit foreign firms to 20% ownership of Russian media outlets, a move that risks curbing press freedoms in a country already dominated by state-controlled media.

The bill that would move up the personal-data law’s implementation passed Wednesday after its second reading, making the new deadline all but certain to come into effect. The Duma must vote once more before sending the bill to Russia’s upper chamber of parliament and the Kremlin for approval. The remaining steps are largely a formality. The bill is likely to become law in weeks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new personal-data measures into law in July. This month, though, Russian lawmakers proposed speeding up their enactment, citing ever-present hacking threats and an “information war” being waged against Russia by foreign powers over the crisis in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party and co-author of the bill that passed Wednesday, warned this month that the Internet was an instrument of what he described as “orange interventions,” or Western-backed antigovernment uprisings.

“That’s where the censorship and revision of the events taking place in Russia come from,” Mr. Fyodorov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper this month. “All the information is stored there and used against Russia. To avoid this and protect the country, we have to take these objects under national control,” he said, referring to the foreign firms’ storage servers.

Russia’s largest social network, Vkontakte, could benefit from the state’s crackdown on foreign Internet companies such as Google and Facebook. Bloomberg News

Russian lawmakers acknowledge that it would be near impossible for companies such as Google to build their own data-storage centers in Russia in just over three months.

“But if a company wants to operate on the territory of the Russian Federation, there are a wide range of rental opportunities,” Alexander Yushchenko, a Communist Party deputy in the Duma and co-author of the bill, said this month. Mr. Yushchenko said foreign Internet firms could rent storage from Russian companies such as state-controlled telecom provider OAO Rostelecom    


Spokeswomen for Google and Twitter declined to comment Wednesday. Facebook didn’t respond to a request to comment.

Karen Kazaryan, chief analyst at the Russian Association for Electronic Communications, a Russian trade body, described the law as impossible to implement in its current form. He said it would be difficult for global Internet companies to track which personal data is coming from Russia.

“Foreign companies will continue to exercise a wait-and-see approach to this law because it is unenforceable,” Mr. Kazaryan said. He predicted foreign Internet firms would buy some server space in Russia to save face but avoid moving any main storage facilities.

Russia has tightened the screws on Internet freedoms ever since mass demonstrations erupted in Moscow in late 2011 and posed the biggest-ever public threat to Mr. Putin’s rule. Led by an anticorruption blogger and organized in part over social-media networks, the protests rattled the Kremlin with the possibility that a street uprising could take place in Russia.

As tensions between the U.S. and Russia mounted this year over the crisis in Ukraine, Mr. Putin warned that Western powers were trying to weaken and undermine the Russian state. In April, he described the Internet as a special project of the Central Intelligence Agency that has continued to develop as such.

In the wake of Western sanctions, the Russian government has begun exploring what to do if Russia were to find itself cut off from the global Internet.

Meanwhile, it has implemented a law requiring bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with state authorities, calling into question the feasibility of anonymous authorship. A tycoon allied with Mr. Putin also has cemented control of the country’s largest social network, VKontakte, over the course of this year.

The proposed law limiting foreign ownership of Russian media assets is expected to pass its second reading in the Duma later this month. The measure would require ownership changes at Vedomosti, a Russian business newspaper owned by Finland’s Sanoma Independent Media, Pearson, PLC’s Financial Times and News Corp‘s  Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

It would also force ownership changes at the Russian edition of Forbes, controlled by Germany’s Axel Springer , and an array of other publications and television channels.

Write to Paul Sonne at and Olga Razumovskaya at