Russia has proposed Apple and SAP hand the government access to their source code to make sure their widely used products are not tools for spying on state institutions.
The suggestion was voiced last week when Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov met Apple's general manager in Russia, Peter Engrob Nielsen, and SAP's Russian managing director, Vyacheslav Orekhov, according to a statement released today by the Communications Ministry.
It said the proposal was designed to ensure the rights of consumers and corporate users to the privacy of their personal data, as well as for state security interests.
While couched in the language of protecting privacy, any Russian move to force these companies to divulge the inner workings of their software could pose a major threat to their viability if they were to lose control of the source code.
"Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013 and US intelligence services' public statements about the strengthening of surveillance of Russia in 2014 have raised a serious question of trust in foreign software and hardware," Nikiforov said in the statement.
He was referring to bombshell disclosures by the former US National Security Agency contractor that revealed widespread NSA snooping through eavesdropping on popular technology products and services.
Since then, experts have concluded that US government-backed standards for software encryption have created backdoors for the NSA to spy on users.
Russia is not alone in challenging technology companies to come clean about their privacy practices.
Governments ranging from Germany to Brazil to China to India and dozens of other nations are revising technology practices in light of the NSA revelations – although most stop short of asking that technology companies disclose their source code.
Source code represents the crown jewels for any software maker and most major commercial software companies jealously guard the code as their most precious secrets.
"Obviously, companies which disclose the source code of their programs are not hiding anything, but those who do not intend to establish cooperation with Russia on this issue may have undeclared capabilities in their products," Nikiforov said.
The ministry cited its more than decade-long cooperation with Microsoft The US firm has been sharing its source code for the Windows operating system and other products since 2003 with Atlas, a technology institution that reports to the communications ministry.
The ministry said the prospect of state companies using software and hardware when the producers do not share their source code with the government "remains uncertain".
SAP and Apple both declined any immediate comment.