Russia Readies Law So Moscow Can Block Social Networking Giants

Russia is once again preparing another bout of repressive legislation, as part of its ongoing efforts to isolate its online environment from the rest of the world.

Reuters reported that on Thursday Russia’s parliament presented draft legislation that, if passed, would enable the Russian government to restrict internet access to American social networking giants deemed to have discriminated against Russian media outlets.

The country has already passed a number of restrictive laws governing the online world, not least of which was its so called ‘Sovereign Internet’ law that enables Russia to be cut off from the global Internet.

Social Networking

But now Reuters reported that the authors of this fresh bill, mostly made up of members of the ruling United Russia party, said they pushing the legislation after receiving complaints from local media outlets like Russia Today, RIA Novosti and Crimea 24 about accounts being suspended or labelled by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

In September this year, Twitter expanded its labelling of accounts belonging to several Russian media outlets with the description “state-affiliated media”, along with those of their senior staff and some key government officials in August.

Twitter’s move was not appreciated in Russia.

“The urgency in adopting the draft law is due to numerous cases of unjustified restriction of Russian citizens’ access to information in the Russian media by certain internet resources, including those registered outside Russia,” a note attached to Russian legislation reportedly said.

In order to become law in Russia, the bill would need to be approved by Russia’s lower house of parliament (the State Duma), before being approved in the upper house of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin.

Communications watchdog Roskomnadzor would then have the authority to fully or partially block firms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Asked about the legislation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters that measures needed to be carefully considered, but that a mechanism to counter the problem was necessary.

“There are definitely discriminatory actions against Russian clients of these services,” he said. “These giants have problems with their clients, they even discriminate against them. Let them deal with their clients, for us the main thing is defending ours from such discrimination.”

Russian isolation

Russian’s attempt to isolate itself from the global internet is no idle threat.

The country has already passed the ‘Sovereign Internet’ law, which had been proposed in the Russian Parliament in December 2018, and was actually passed by the State Duma in April 2019.

The law is designed to ensure the ability of the internet to function within Russia even if the country were cut off from access to the global network.

Russia gained the legal authority to disconnect the country from foreign Internet servers after President Putin signed the controversial “sovereign internet” bill in May 2019.

This was despite the protests of thousands of people, concerned it would tighten government controls of the Internet in Russia.

The legislation allows for the routing of all Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by the Russian government, which would monitor it for unlawful content as well as ensuring traffic remains within Russia as much as possible.

It also proposes the building a national Domain Name System (DNS) to allow the internet to continue functioning in case of disconnection from the root servers operating elsewhere.

Essentially, Russian authorities want to route 95 percent of internet traffic within the country by 2020.

And Russia ‘successfully tested’ a country-wide alternative to the global internet in December 2019.

Details of that ‘successful test’ remain vague, but Russia’s Ministry of Communications said at the time that ordinary users did not notice any changes.

The test was aimed at developing ways to block certain types of encrypted web traffic.

In 2019 it was reported that Russian telcos were considering cutting the country off from the global internet in order to test proposed national security laws.

The Russian telcos had recommended carrying out a practical exercise that would simulate Russia being disconnected from the external internet, in order to study the effects this would have on their networks.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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