Russia Ramps Up Internet Censorship

The Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has started adding sites hosting illegal information to a universal ‘blacklist’, to be taken offline without a court order.

In accordance with the law passed this summer, Russian Internet or ‘runet’ has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards websites that are hosting information about drugs, self-harm and child pornography.

Civil rights activists have been protesting against the changes, claiming they restrict freedom of speech and would lead to further Internet censorship.

Internet censorship

Changes to the Act for Information were approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin in July. Operation of the Internet censorship has been entrusted to the country’s media and communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor.

At the centre of the new system will be the website (literally ‘forbidden-info’) that went online today. It will contain the list of all websites deemed illegal by the government, as well as aggregate complaints from Internet users, organisations and businesses.

From now on, anyone can anonymously report a website containing illegal information, and Roskomnadzor will have to investigate it. This does not necessarily mean the website will be blocked.

Complaints related to copyright issues are not mentioned in the new legislation.

Once a website with illegal content is discovered, Roskomnadzor has to inform its owner and their hosting provider, and demand the prohibited information be removed. In case the content is still available after 48 hours, access to it will be blocked directly by Russian ISPs.

According to reports by RIA Novosti, since coming online, the website has been targeted by hacker attacks, which so far have been unable to take it down.

Even though the law was primarily intended to safeguard children from harmful content, it caused a negative reaction from the Internet community.

According to The Voice Of Russia, major Russian online destinations such as, Yandex, Vkontakte and Livejournal have all staged protest campaigns against the new rules, fearing they will lead to more Internet censorship. The Russian part of Wikipedia even went offline for a day, similar to the way many it protested against SOPA and PIPA in January.

Some have described the Internet censorship move as a way for the government to keep dissidents in check.

However, Russia’s telecom minister Nikolai Nikiforov had assured on Tuesday that the government wasn’t trying to censor the Internet, and that law-abiding companies had nothing to fear.

In March, international organisation Reporters Without Borders criticised Russia for widespread Internet surveillance and censorship in its annual “Enemies of the Internet” report. Russian analysts have called the report biased, denying claims the Kremlin was using advanced systems to monitor Internet traffic.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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