Russian Internet Crackdown – the Digital Gulag
It’s quite ironic that Edward Snowden who has blown the lid on so many assaults against our online privacy and free speech has ended up in a place like Russia. After all he is on the run from the US government, you’d kind of hope to end up in a country where free speech is even more precious than to the Americans, believe me Russia isn’t that place.
In fact the Russian’s seem to be powering towards the sort of online repression that usually is the domain of dictators in Islamic Republics (or China of course!. Vladamir Putin has overseen the implementation of some seriously restrictive and slightly crazy internet laws and regulations.
It started in 2012 with the Russian blacklist – a government list of websites which had to be automatically blocked by Russian service providers. The list was cited to contain illegal content such as child pornography, drugs, self harm web sites and political extremists – of course this was how it was promoted. A list of nasty stuff that nobody could possibly object to, the law was passed and the infrastructure put in place to allow the internet filtering to work throughout the country.
Job done, the next bit was simpler -a slight addition to the law which allows the Russian Government to add any web site it sees fit to this blocked list. There is no court order or permission required – any website can be added to this extensive list almost in complete secrecy. The official line is that the website would be something that did the following –
“calls to riots, extremist activities, the incitement of ethnic and (or) sectarian hatred, terrorist activity, or participation in public events held in breach of appropriate procedures.”
Of course in reality this pretty much will mean absolutely any website they like, given that no public scrutiny is required to add the site to this register. If you criticize the government or Putin in any way, expect your site to be added to this list. It goes without saying that using simple methods like Smart DNS to access blocked sites in Russia is not sufficient, you need encryption and anonymous methods to stay safe.
There’s more though, much more – a whole raft of crazy, controlling and oppressive laws designed to control, intimidate and manipulate the web in Russia. They’re grouped under so-called anti-terrorism laws but you can be certain that they will be used in many other ways.
How about this one, regarding electronic money transfers – lots of limits especially on anonymous online money transfers. Russians won’t be allowed to spend more than $450 from such accounts in a single calender months, or single day transactions would be limited to under $30. If you overstep these you could risk being caught in this terrorism legislation! So be careful paying for those downloads, online services or even a take-away from certain accounts. How these will be monitored, enforced or by whom is unsure – but I suspect even the KGB would have difficulty keeping track of all that information.
However even more manpower will be required for other aspects of this bill, there are extensive obligations being placed on anyone who owns, or runs any sort of website including blogs, forums up to the big global operators who have a presence not blocked in Russia. They will be required to store all information
“about arrival, transmission, delivery and processing of voice data, written text, images, sounds and any other sorts of action”
So that’s basically saying absolutely every piece of information that is passed between any site and a user – must be logged and archived for a minimum of six months. The owners of these sites – and let’s remember this includes simple one person blogs – must also inform the Russian security services when users first register or use their sites, and whenever they’re is an exchange of information. Basically if you run a cooking blog, you’ll also have to set up a Stasi style monitoring department to spy on your users too.
If you don’t follow these rules, you’re likely to face at the very minimum fines ranging to six thousand dollars per offence – which will likely be needed to pay for all the extra security staff to sift through all this spying data !