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Tightening Control: Four Scary Things Happening to the Russian Internet

A couple of weeks ago a Russian Member of Parliament Sergei Zheleznyak used the NSA revelations as an opportunity to call for Russia to reclaim “digital sovereignty” and create what he referred to as a national server for the Russian internet. The Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament proposed a system which would require foreign websites to register with the Kremlin and adhere to Russian laws in order to operate within the country.

This proposal is just the latest in a series of controversial pieces of internet legislation the Duma has passed in the last year that requires special behavior from foreign websites. The most recent was a stringent anti-piracy bill nicknamed “The Russian SOPA.”

SOPA didn’t die, it just moved to Russia
Although informally called the Russian SOPA, it’s actually called Amendments to the Russian Federation’s Laws Protecting Intellectual Property Rights on Information-Telecommunications Networks. Despite an outcry from Google and Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine – the Duma fast-tracked this stringent anti-piracy legislation through the Duma last month.

Set to go into effect August 1, the bill imposes harsh penalties for copyright violations. With this bill, copyright holders are invited to go to the Moscow City Court with proof that their copyright has been violated somewhere online, along with proof they own the copyright. After alerting the court, the copyright holder has up to fifteen days to file a formal complaint. If the court decides during that time that copyright has been violated, they can (even without the formal complaint) instruct the service provider to remove the content. The service provider must then contact the content host to have them initiate a content takedown. If the content isn’t removed within 72 hours of the request from the court, the service provider can be forced to take down the entire IP address and domain.

How might this play out, come August? For example – if there is copyrighted material somewhere on a WordPress blog and it is not removed within 72 hours, all WordPress blogs hosted on the same IP address or domain might be blocked, even if they are unrelated . In addition, copyright holders are not required to present the URL where the infringed material can be found, leaving site owners to dig through their own data to track it down and remove it.

While IP blocking is often regarded as inefficient and over-reaching, this isn’t the first time the Russian government has passed legislation including IP-wide blocking.

The Blacklist Law
Called the Common Register of Domain Names, Internet Website Page Locators, and Network Addresses that Allow Identifying Internet Websites Which Contain Information that is Prohibited for Distribution in the Russian Federation, the “Russian Internet Blacklist” allows the government to restrict access to websites with objectionable content.

Rushed through the Duma last summer despite outcry from internet and civil society groups, the stringent bill requires websites websites containing child pornography, instructions on drug production or suicide advocacy to be blocked. Opponents of the bill criticize the language as vague and over-arching, prompting worries that the law may be applied to curtail free speech and anti-government sentiment online.

When users find a site that contains one of those three topics, they may submit the URL to a registry. That site is then sent to the Roskomnadzor, Russia’s main governmental media watchdog. If found to fall under one of those three categories, the Roskomnadzor then notifies the ISP, who contacts the site owner. If the objectionable content is not removed within 24 hours, the provider must block the website’s IP address and domain name.

Conversely, one region in Russia has taken the blacklist one step further by allowing users in the Kostroma region to only access a “whitelist” of pre-approved sites vetted by the Russian Safe Internet League, a council sponsored by the Russian Orthodox Church. Any user wanting to venture beyond a pre-approved list of 500,000 websites needs to expressly fill out a form.

Anti-gay propaganda bill
The bill prohibits distribution of information on “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors over the Internet and traditional media. Media outlets that violate the law can be fined in upwards of $30,000 and be suspended for up to 90 days, reports GlobalPost. The bill passed both houses of parliament unanimously with one abstention, and is expected to be signed into law. Protests outside the Kremlin against the bill sparked violence between gay rights activists and counter-protestors in support of the bill.

With Russia’s new restrictions on what is deemed acceptable content, and a prominent Member of Parliament calling on foreign web services to register in order to operate in the country, are we seeing a galvanization of a balkanized internet, or the solidification of a digital iron curtain? What do you think of the recent developments in the country? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author: Maura Youngman

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