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The Incredible Shrinking RuNet

Published: May 22, 2014 (Issue # 1811)


Over the past two years, the Russian government has armed itself to the teeth with regulatory powers that enable nearly every conceivable form of Internet censorship. In the summer of 2012, the state created a federal registry, where it can blacklist any website or entire web domain for hosting content deemed to be harmful to minors. Earlier this year, the Prosecutor Generals Office gained the right to add to the registry extrajudicially any web address guilty of encouraging extremism.

Since February, the Prosecutor Generals Office has added more than 100 websites to the federal blacklist, including the well-known independent news portals Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru and Ej.ru. Additionally, prosecutors have banned several websites belonging to Russias most prominent political blogger, Alexei Navalny, who is also under house arrest.

The Russian establishment certainly has not shied from stirring up trouble on the Internet, where Kremlin-friendly oligarchs have interfered with media outlets like Gazeta.ru, Lenta.ru, and Dozhd television, and forced Pavel Durov, the founder and CEO of the countrys largest social network, Vkontakte, to emigrate. These intrusions on Internet freedom, however, have come in the familiar form of backroom machinations, where meddling shareholders, layoffs and private phone calls intervene against independent-minded troublemakers.

Yet, despite the apparent reliability of micromanaging the Russian media with traditional pressures, lawmakers are signaling their interest in yet another wave of Internet regulations. The new proposals, still in the early development stage, would grant the government powers that are drastic, even in comparison to the recent anti-terrorism package.

The first suggestion belongs to Maxim Kavdzharadze, a senator in the Federation Council, who is calling on Russia to institute its own Internet separate from the U.S. and Europe. Citing security concerns about Western surveillance, Kavdzharadze warns that everyone has joined social networks, where they tell where theyve been and where theyre going.

While the public laughed about Kavdzharadzes dreams of Internet autarky, Kommersant published an article on April 29 about another, seemingly far more serious government initiative. According to Kommersants anonymous sources, a Kremlin working group is drafting new regulations that would grant the state, what reporters describe as, total control over the Internet.

The plan would force Internet providers to use DNS servers located in Russia, allowing the government to manage the way URL addresses match IP addresses, making it possible to disrupt the way Internet users access websites. Officials would also institute a tiered system for all online data transfers, barring local and regional networks from interacting with networks located abroad. At all levels of the Internet, the government intends to filter content. Finally, the working group proposes transferring the duties of the Coordination Center for the .ru and . domains to an agency inside the Kremlin, laying the foundation for greater state control over what could become privileged domains inside Russia.

The governments accumulation of online censorship tools resembles an arms race. So far, the Kremlin has refrained from unloading its full arsenal on the countrys 65 million Internet users. Yes, there have been isolated attacks on information freedom, as the Attorney Generals persecution of Navalny and several news portals attests, but the RuNets general independence survives, for the most part, albeit unsteadily. If this is indeed an arms race, however, the Kremlin might one day soon decide that its well enough equipped to snuff out the political threat inherent in a free RuNet.

Should that moment arrive, Russia would become a very different place.

Kevin Rothrock is the project editor of Global Voices RuNet Echo.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Jan. 26


Feeling stressed by the crisis? The Northwest Coach University at 3 Ulitsa Vostsstanaya is hosting a master class by lifecoach Tatiana Almazova. She will shed light on the coaching process, the usefulness of coaching during times of economic downturn and how coaching can improve your career and business prospects. The event starts at 7 p.m. and admission is free. Pre-register by calling 424 3700.



Discover the State Hermitage Museum's collection of English painting at a lecture by art historian Yelizaveta Renne at the Prince Galitzine Library, 46 Nab. Reki Fontanki. The event starts at 6 p.m. and the lecture will be followed by a concert of arias, songs and duets by English composer Henry Purcell. The event is free of charge.



Tuesday, Jan. 27


Celebrate the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.







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