Russian Internet 'One Step Away' From Chinese-Style Firewall
Published: April 29, 2014 (Issue # 1807)
Amid growing criticism of its increasingly tighter regulation of the Internet, Russia's official media watchdog on Monday vowed to continue its fight in the "information war," saying freedom of speech "does not mean everything is permitted."
The government made clear at an annual meeting of top officials of the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service, or Roskomnadzor, that it intended to boost its legal regulatory grip over the Internet and mass media, citing a need to protect the majority of the population from harmful information.
The agency's head, Alexander Zharov, told The St. Petersburg Times that "it is very important to realize the aim for free speech, but freedom of speech does not mean that everything is permitted."
Zharov's comments came just days after President Vladimir Putin said the Internet was a "special project of the CIA," a statement which was met with sharp criticism amid growing tensions between Russia and the U.S. and fears of a second Cold War.
Roskomnadzor currently blocks access to 2,132 websites, but at least 56,000 more are blocked only because they share an IP address with the one on the blacklist. Access to a website can be restricted if its content can harm children or if it contains information that infringes upon intellectual property. Russian laws also allow state agencies to block websites without a court order if they promote extremism, suicide or illegal drugs, or call on people to come to unsanctioned protest rallies.
Roskomnadzor is the main Russian agency responsible for executing the recently passed legislation regulating the Internet. Various officials from the media watchdog echoed the belief that the Internet required such firm regulation, saying during the meeting and on the sidelines that a lack of regulation could be dangerous for the public. The officials did not offer suggestions on how to balance regulation and freedom of speech.
State Duma Deputy Sergei Zheleznyak, in his speech to dozens of high-ranking officials, described the situation as an "information war" that posed a threat to Russia.
"Roskomnadzor stands at the forefront of the information war that was unleashed against our country and our values," Zheleznyak said.
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