Russia transforms Internet into intranet

In the context of total attack of Putin’s authoritarian regime on the human rights and freedoms of, that resulted in transition of mass media under the full state control, Internet resources and social networks remained just about the last resort for free communication and access to alternative information.

Kremlin’s policy aimed at further isolation of the Russian society from the outer world required further steps from the Russian authorities. Communication opportunities available through Internet became a serious irritant for the government being currently interpreted by Kremlin as a serious threat to the state security. This entailed actions focused on maximum lockout of informational flow in order to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and deprive its citizens of a possibility to “cluster over three people” even in the network.

In order to reveal “unlawful” materials in online media the system of automatic aggregation and analysis of information was introduced in all Russian regions. By its means the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications detects the “infringements” and makes a caution, and after two cautions a broadcasting license shall be withdrawn. Apart from essential content hardware system analyses comments and forums, obligating to delete the content which infringes the requirements within 24 hours, otherwise the owner will incur a penalty (RUB 5 ths. – 1 mln). By the end of 2016 the system will have worked in all Russian regions.

For a comparatively brief period (over the past two years) the State Duma of the Russian Federation has managed to adopt more laws than over the previous decades. The so-called “antiterrorist package” included laws governing the usage of the Internet. Thus, on September 1, 2015 the amendments to Law “On personal data” came into force, which granted the law enforcement agencies access to users’ personal data. Foreign companies working with personal data in Russia are bound to operate and store them within the state, though some of them are still beyond the Russia’s jurisdiction. Information security experts and business call this law, to use the mildest term, imperfect and journalists consider it to be drastic, designed to enhance censorship, keeping track of civil activists and opposition. However, officially being governed by legislation in force, the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications may forbid access to Google, Facebook, Twitter and any other undesirable services even today.

From January 1, 2016 the so-called law on the “right to oblivion” under which the news systems, such as Yandex, Google or Rambler may be fined up to RUB 3 mln for posting the links to information which the government desires to remove. The Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications is entitled to block any websites without the court judgment even for one article with “information for adults”, “appeals to extremist activity” or “holding unlawful rallies”. The Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications will unilaterally designate extremism. The government expects the self-censorship mechanism to be triggered by the threat of fees and prison sentence.

The short-term plans of the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications include monopolization of cross-border traffic. Draft law has therefore been prepared introducing the status of federal operator upon which this field of activity will become inaccessible for independent actors as far as the Law clearly states the criteria of federal operator status. It is clear that only such major state actors as Rostelecom and Transtelecom will meet these criteria. Monopolization of Internet services market will provide additional opportunities to the government in terms of supervision by granting law enforcement agencies the access to personal user data. Besides Internet surfing monitoring system are going to be put into effect. Operators will be obliged to use Internet exchange points listed in special state register only. As a result, the state acquires an opportunity to monitor information flow data and Internet traffic routing.

Recently the government dealt another crushing blow on civil society – on December 5, 2016 President Putin signed the new doctrine on information security. De facto it declares to the whole world that freedom of speech in Russia does not exist. Freedom is sacrificed to “preservation of balance between public need for free exchange of information and restrictions related to the need of national security protection, including in information domain”. Special paragraph touches upon “development of system of Russian Internet segment management”. Members of the Security Council of Russia and security services are extremely concerned with the effect provided by the content rendering through the networks and online platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook etc. The restated version of Russian doctrine treats content rendering more broadly than the notion of extremist content as it encourages penetration of ideas which catalyses actions. Surely, the doctrine represents the objectives only. Their materialization involves adopting laws by the State Duma and implementing by the government. Any mention about free exchange of information would henceforth be flattened by the “state security interests”.

Russian population and elites – political and intellectual –are preparing for isolation and seem to be even proud of it. Internet in Russia is going to be emasculated and transformed into Buddhist monkey – “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.

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