Russia plans to censor Internet

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 7:32 | Posted in censorship, Freedom of speech, internet, russia | 8 Comments

Russia has so far not bothered very much to regulate the Internet. The low Internet penetration in Russia has guarded most citizens from the harmful effects of free speech. Since the traditional media is under heavy government control, access to independent sources of information has has been kept on a suitable level without special measures targeted against the web.

However, this is likely to change soon. According to The Other Russia, the Prosecutor-General’s Office has filed legislative proposals about web censorship to both houses of the Parliament and the presidential administration. The prosecutors want to make ISP’s and telecoms responsible for “objectionable and extremist material” in the Internet.

Aleksey Zhafyarov, the deputy head of Directorate to supervise enforcement of laws on federal security, interethnic relations and countering extremism was frank with the agency:

“We have a paradoxical situation on our hands: there is a whole group of companies that maintain the internet and derive a profit, yet take no responsibility for the impact on society of the content they host.”

Internet related bills have previously been tabled in both houses, among others one that would require all web sites with more than 1000 daily visitors to register as mass-media outlets and another one limiting foreign investments to telecom and internet industries.

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8 Comments »

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  1. Nobody really knows what is actually happening here. But this country has quite long been going in a fearful direction. It is even more fearful to locals than to foreigners.

  2. Andyash, I agree that Russia is far on a dangerous road and very few people in and outside the country realize this. The main stream thinking in the west seems to be that it would be possible to attract Russia towards democracy. This may have been possible during the early Yeltsin era but those days are long gone.

    It is important that we know what is happening over there. Now that Russia is probably going to raise the great firewall of its own, similar to that of China, access to critical sites may be screened in Russia but it is that much more important that info is flowing out.

  3. The question is for how long to the majority of people who don’t have money and political weight to have access to the West.

  4. In context of currently proposed legislation the situation is interesting. The authorities have hitherto not paid much attention to regulating the Internet because of the low penetration. The very fact that censorship is being planned seems to suggest that the government believes that much more people are going to have access to the web within near future.

    This is per se good. The interesting question is what sort of information the people are going to have access to once the Great Firewall of Russia has been erected. Not even China has managed to filter everything and information is indeed flowing out from China.

    Baring in mind that technical know-how among Russian web users is outstandingly high I believe that nothing drastic is going to happen in the short term. However, I am much more worried about the long term perspective, which there are rumors about, that Russia would build a web of its own isolated from the World Wide Web. That web would be heavily filtered visavi the real web.

  5. Unfortunately, being more computer-literate than mot of my colleagues I am still not as literate as to play with or around filters, proxi, etc. In this context I also do not quite understand how this “Internet-within-Russia” is going to work. Will it be a collection of strictly Russian censored sites? Will it be the usual Internet, only heavily filtered? Or will it be something else and how it can all work?

    I believe that if they close the foreign sites completely, most Internet users here will be facing nothing to surf. It is true for both looking for information and looking for entertainment. Blogging on platforms other than Russian (including LiveJournal), like WordPress would be then impossible, if they shut the virtual border.

    What I think is that technically it is much more probable that strong filtering system is imposed, along with pressure on Internet providers. I believe that opposition can even be selectively banned from accessing the Internet in the long-term. But as you say, on the one hand, Russians (those having access) might be quite technically advanced. On the other hand, I believe that the whole hing might just turn out to be a collection of fear-promotion, when people are made afraid of doing some sort of things and stick to dating and music.

  6. I am not a techie freak so I do not know in detail how the filtering is designed to happen. I suppose it would be something like an internal web connected to the real web selectively.

    Incidentally, there is a short article this morning in the Estonian paper Eesti Päevaleht about prospects of web censorship in Russia. They quote Russian experts as saying that neither a censorship nor problems due to over congestion are likely before 2010. This would imply that 2010 is when the Internet penetration is expected to reach the critical point for government intervention.

  7. As for penetration, it is high already in biggest cities, where most of the population lives. It is still very low in smaller towns and rural areas. Yet the thing is not the penetration, but how many of those having access do anything deemed wrong by the government. As long as most of the people stay glued to social networks and entertainment sites, everything is fine. The minority of actively looking for political information and actively leaking out such information doesn’t make the weather (as we say in Russian) yet. I’d say that not many of that minority is ready to actually leave their computers and go out in the streets.

  8. There are currently practically no dissidents in rural areas. If penetration in rural areas is going to increase as is prospected it will around 2010, then the government have most to loose there. That is the connection with penetration. Also, the congestion is going to be a problem so they would have yo do something with the infrastructure anyway.

    If the government were afraid of street demonstrations they would already have acted. But access to free information is a hazard for an authoritarian government which is why censoring the web is the logical thing to do.


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