Internet censorship in Russia
Internet censorship in the Russian Federation is enforced according to Federal law no. 139-FZ, which is an amendment to the Russian federal law "On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development" and other laws. The law took effect on 1 November 2012 and instituted a blacklist maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor, Russian: Федеральная служба по надзору в сфере массовых коммуникаций и связи) for the censorship of individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses.
The law is outlined in a government decree issued on 26 October 2012. The blacklist is intended to block sites that contain child pornography, materials advocating drug abuse and production, and materials advocating suicide. In practice, the blacklist is also used to block websites presenting news that is not consistent with current Russian government policy.
Russia was found to engage in selective Internet filtering in the political and social areas and no evidence of filtering was found in the conflict/security and Internet tools areas by the OpenNet Initiative in December 2010.
In 2004 only a minority of Russians (8% of the population) had Internet access. In May 2008, some 32.7 million users in Russia had access to the Internet (almost 30% of the population). In 2012, 75.9 million Russians (53% of the population) had access.
Following his visit to Russia in 2004, Álvaro Gil-Robles, then Commissioner for Human Rights of Council of Europe, noted the high quality of news and reaction speed of Russia's Internet media. Virtually all the main newspapers were available on-line, some even opting for Web as a sole information outlet. Russia's press agencies (including the most important Ria-Novosti and Itar-Tass) were also well represented in the Web.
In April 2008 Agence France-Presse noted that, "The Internet is the freest area of the media in Russia, where almost all television and many newspapers are under formal or unofficial government control".
As reported by Kirill Pankratov in April 2009 in The Moscow Times:
Even discounting the chaotic nature of the web, there is plenty of Russian-language material on political and social issues that is well-written and represents a wide range of views. This does not mean, though, that most Russians are well-informed of the important political and social issues of today. But this is largely a matter of personal choice, not government restrictions. If somebody is too lazy to make just a few clicks to read and become aware of various issues and points of view, maybe he deserves to be fed bland, one-sided government propaganda.
In a November 2009 address to the Federal Assembly, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged that Russia was ranked only as the world's 63rd country based on estimates of the level of communications infrastructure development. He stressed the necessity to provide broadband Internet access on the whole Russia's territory in five years, and to manage the transition to digital TV, as well as the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards.
The absence of overt state-mandated Internet filtering in Russia before 2012 led some observers to conclude that the Russian Internet represents an open and uncontested space. In fact, the Russian government actively competes in Russian cyberspace employing second- and third-generation strategies as a means to shape the national information space and promote pro-government political messages and strategies. This approach is consistent with the government’s strategic view of cyberspace that is articulated in strategies such as the doctrine of information security. DoS attacks against Estonia (May 2007) and Georgia (August 2008) may have been an early indication of the government’s active interest in mobilizing and shaping activities in Russian cyberspace.
SORM, a System for Operative Investigative Activities, was amended in July 1998 to allow monitoring of the Internet in addition to telephone communications. SORM allows law enforcement agents to monitor Internet traffic and requires ISPs to assist law enforcement in their investigations. In late 2000, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the law enforcement agents are required to obtain a warrant and inform ISPs when the SORM is going to be used.
In July 2012, the State Duma passed a law calling for the formation of an Internet blacklist—taking effect on 1 November 2012. The blacklist, administered by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) and Federal Drug Control Service of Russia, is primarily designed for the protection of children from harmful content; particularly that which glorifies drug usage, suicide, or contain child pornography. Despite this, it has also been increasingly used to censor websites that display extremist ideologies in opposition to the Russian government.
The organization offers a website where users can check to see whether a given URL or IP address is in the blacklist, and can also report websites which contain prohibited materials authorities. After a submission is verified, Roskomnadzor will inform the website's owner and hosting provider. If the material is not removed within three days, the website will be added to the blacklist, and all Russian ISPs must block it. The full content of the blacklist is available to ISPs, but not to the general public, although soon after it was implemented, a leaked list of blacklisted websites was published by a LiveJournal user on 12 November 2012.
In Russian, the blacklist is officially called the Единый реестр доменных имён, указателей страниц сайтов в сети «Интернет» и сетевых адресов, позволяющих идентифицировать сайты в сети «Интернет», содержащие информацию, распространение которой в Российской Федерации запрещено, which translates to Common register of domain names, Internet website page locators, and network addresses that allow identifying Internet websites which contain information that is prohibited for distribution in the Russian Federation. Russian sources generally refer to it under the shortened name "Common register of prohibited websites" (Единый реестр запрещённых сайтов) or Common register of websites with prohibited information (Единый реестр сайтов с запрещённой информацией). English-language sources for the most part simply refer to it as the country's Internet blacklist.
Reaction to the blacklist
Reporters Without Borders criticized the procedure by which entries are added to the blacklist as "extremely opaque", and viewed it as part of an attack on the freedom of information in Russia. Some human rights activists have expressed fear that the blacklist may be used to censor democracy-oriented websites. And a Lenta.ru editorial noted that the criteria for prohibited content are so broad that even the website of the ruling United Russia party could in theory be blacklisted. However, the idea of an Internet blacklist is generally supported by the Russian public: in a September 2012 Levada Center survey, 63% of respondents had expressed support for "Internet censorship", though any kind of censorship is banned under the Constitution of Russia.
Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized the blacklist, stating: "EFF is profoundly opposed to government censorship of the Internet, which violates its citizens right to freedom of expression... We are especially concerned about the censorship of independent news and opposing political views, which are essential to a thriving civil society. Russians who wish to circumvent government censorship can continue to read these websites via the Tor Browser."
Data retention law
On 23 July 2014, the State Duma passed a data retention law as an amendment to existing anti-terrorism legislation. The law will require all web services to store the user data of Russians on servers within the country. Sites which do not comply with this requirement by September 2016 may be blocked by the government.
Instances of censorship
- In 2004 Russia pressured Lithuania and in 2006 Sweden into shutting down the Kavkaz Center website, a site that supports creation of a Sharia state in North Caucasus and hosts videos on terrorist attacks on Russian forces in North Caucasus.
- Magomed Yevloyev, editor of Ingushetia.org, a vocal critic of the region's administration, was murdered in August 2008.
- At the background of December 2008 demonstrations in Vladivostok, it was reported by Kontury news website that FSB officers addressed moderators of the ru_auto Internet community with a request to remove stories about the Vladivostok protests. The major reason, as reported by a moderator of the resource, was that a number of repeating posts with the information about protests worsened some sort of statistics on people's attitudes. The moderator in question requested bloggers to publish only unique posts about protest actions.
- In December 2009, Internet provider Yota with over 100,000 subscribers has blocked access to some Russian opposition Internet resources for its Moscow-based subscribers for few days. The block occurred after the chief prosecutor of St. Petersburg recommended the company to block access to extremist resources. In the same time, the only Internet resource listed as extremist by the Ministry of Justice of Russia is the site of Caucasian separatists KavkazCenter.ru. Since the evening of 6 December 2009, Yota opened access to all previously blocked resources, but the KavkazCenter.ru.
- In July 2012, the Russian State Duma passed the Bill 89417-6 which created a blacklist of Internet sites. The blacklist was officially launched in November 2012, despite criticism by major websites and NGOs.
- On 31 March 2013 the New York Times reported that Russia was beginning 'Selectively Blocking [the] Internet'.
- On 5 April 2013, it was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media that Wikipedia had been blacklisted over the article 'Cannabis Smoking' on Russian Wikipedia.
- On 7 August 2013, the Central District Court of the city of Tver, located 100 miles (roughly 160 km) north of Moscow, ruled that the Bible-education website http://jw.org should be banned throughout the Russian Federation. On 22 January 2014 the Regional Court of Tver ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses and reversed the earlier ruling by the lower court. The Regional Court conducted a new trial, which concluded that the decision of the Central District Court was unjustified, since there was no legal reason to ban the site.[better source needed]
- On 8 April 2012, it was confirmed by Roskomnadzor that several Russian and English Wikipedia articles had been blacklisted. On 5 April 2013, a spokesperson for Roskomnadzor confirmed that the Russian Wikipedia had been blacklisted over the article "Cannabis smoking".
- The IP address of Lurkmore.to (Lurkomorye) was blocked on 11 November 2012 by decision of the Federal Drug Control Service of Russia; the Lurkmore.to owner told journalists that he did not receive any communication from Roskomnadzor or the Federal Drug Control Service before the IP address was blacklisted. Lurkmore.to was removed from the blacklist on 13 November 2012 after the website administrators deleted two marijuana-related articles.
- The IP address of the Librusec online library was blacklisted on 11 November 2012. According to a leaked copy of the blacklist, it was blocked for a description of marijuana soup in a Russian translation of The Anarchist Cookbook. The IP address was unblocked on 13 November after The Anarchist Cookbook was removed by Librusec administrators.
- In March 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis, the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, Kasparov.ru and Grani.ru were blocked by the government. These sites, which showed opposition towards the Russian government, were blocked for "making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order."
- Further in 2014 a number of news or political websites were blocked as War in Donbass developed. Pages blocked included Ukrainian news site Glavnoe.ua, a survey about separation of Caucasus from Russia and numerous announcements and commentaries on "march for Siberia federalisation" in August 2014.
- In 2014, a media blackout was launched against a performance art project called Monstration scheduled for August 17. Roskomnadzor issued warnings to 14 media outlets for reporting the announcement. The project was compared to Euromaidan that led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
- "Постановление Правительства Российской Федерации от 26 октября 2012 г. N 1101 г. Москва" [Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation no. 1101 of 26 October 2012 in the city of Moscow] (in Russian). Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
- "ONI Country Profiles", Research section at the OpenNet Initiative web site, a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
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- Kremlin critic shot in Ingushetia, BBC
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- http://kontury.info/news/2008-12-23-607[not in citation given]
- "Yota: subscriber growth", 18 August 2009
- "Абоненты расследуют «фильтрацию» оппозиционных сайтов" ("Subscribers are investigating the 'filtering' of opposition websites"), Olga Ivanova, New Russia News Agency (NR2), 3 December 2009, (Russian). (English translation)).
- "Абоненты Yota несколько дней не имели доступа к оппозиционным сайтам" ("Yota blocked access to opposition sites for several days"), Lenta.Ru, 7 December 2009 (Russian). (English translation).
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- "Russian Court Overturns Attempt to Ban Bible-Education Website-JW.org", Johovah's Witnesses, 21 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014.[better source needed]
- "Стал известен полный список статей, на данный момент внесённый в реестр Роскомнадзора (ru, en)" ("He became known for a complete list of articles, currently entered in the register Roskomnadzora (ru, en)"), Wikimedia RU. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
- "Russia May Block Wikipedia Access Over Narcotics Article", RIA Novosti, 5 April 2013
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- "Интернет-энциклопедию "Луркоморье" внесли в реестр запрещенных сайтов" [The "Lurkomorye" Internet encyclopedia has been added to the register of prohibited websites] (in Russian). Lenta.Ru. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
- ""Закрыть можно что угодно по произвольному набору критериев" Владелец Lurkmore о блокировке сайта" ["Anything can be banned using an arbitrary set of criteria." The owner of Lurkmore talks about the website being blocked] (in Russian). Afisha. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
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- "Заблокирован IP Либрусека. Госорганы добрались до библиотек" [The Librusec IP is blocked. The authorities have started targeting libraries.] (in Russian). RuBlackList. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
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- "Библиотека "Либрусек" удалила "Поваренную книгу анархиста"" (in Russian). Lenta.Ru. 14 November 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
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