Internet censorship in Russia

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Internet censorship in the Russian Federation is enforced on the basis of several laws and through several mechanisms. Since 2012, Russia maintains a centralized internet blacklist (known as the "single register") maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor). The list is used for the censorship of individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses. It was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and drug production, descriptions of suicide methods, and containing child pornography. It was subsequently amended to allow the blocking of materials that are classified as extremist, call for illegal meetings, or contain other content deemed illegal.[1] These regulations have been frequently abused to block criticism of the federal government or local administration.[2][3] A law prohibiting "abuse of mass media freedom" implements a process for the shutting down of online media outlets.[3]

Status[edit]

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.[4]

Russia was on Reporters Without Borders list of countries under surveillance from 2010 to 2013[5] and was moved to the Internet Enemies list in 2014.[6]

Freedom House deems Russia "not free" with a score of 65/100 (100 being less free) in its 2016 Freedom on the Net report.[3]

Since at least 2015, Russia collaborates with Chinese Great Firewall security officials in implementing its data retention and filtering infrastructure.[7]

Agencies[edit]

Emblem of Roskomnadzor

Media in the Russian Federation, including the internet, is regulated by Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications), a branch of the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communcations.

Roskomnadzor, along with several other agencies such as the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Consumer Protection Service, and the office of the Prosecutor General, can block certain classes of content without a court order: Calls for unsanctioned public actions, content deemed extremist, materials that violate copyright, information about juvenile victims of crime, child abuse imagery, information encouraging the use of drugs, and descriptions of suicide.[8] Other content can be blocked with a court order.[8]

Internet service providers (ISPs) are held legally responsible for any illegal content that is accessible to their users (intermediary liability).[8]

History[edit]

Developments 2004–2012[edit]

In 2004 only a minority of Russians (8% of the population) had Internet access.[9] In May 2008, some 32.7 million users in Russia had access to the Internet (almost 30% of the population).[10] In 2012, 75.9 million Russians (53% of the population) had access.[11] In December 2015, most part of country, 92.8 million Russians (70% of the population) have Internet access.[12]

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.[9]

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".[13]

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.[14]

In a November 2009 address to the Federal Assembly, then 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 to the whole Russian territory in five years, and to manage the transition to digital TV, as well as the 4G of cellular wireless standards.[15]

In 2010 OpenNet Initiative noted, that while "the absence of overt state-mandated Internet filtering in Russia has led some observers to conclude that the Russian Internet represents an open and uncontested space", the government had a consistent, strategic approach to taking control over the information in electronic media. 2007 cyberattacks on Estonia and cyberattacks during the Russo-Georgian War (2008) may have been "an indication of the government’s active interest in mobilizing and shaping activities in Russian cyberspace".

Developments since 2012[edit]

Establishment and expansion of the blacklist[edit]

First countywide judicial censorship measures were taken by the government in the wake of the 2011–13 Russian protests. This included the Internet blacklist law, implemented in November 2012. The criteria for inclusion in the blacklist initially included child pornography, advocating suicide and illegal drugs. In 2013, the blacklist law was amended with content "suspected in extremism", "calling for illegal meetings", "inciting hatred" and "violating the established order".[16] The law allowed for flexible interpretation and inclusion of a wide array of content. Popular opposition websites encouraging protests against the court rulings in Bolotnaya Square case were for example blocked for "calling for illegal action"; Dumb Ways to Die, a public transport safety video, was blocked as "suicide propaganda"; websites discussing federalization of Siberia — as "attack on the foundations of the constitution"; an article on a gay activist being fired from job as well as LGBT support communities — as "propaganda of non-traditional sex relations"; publishing Pussy Riot logo — as "insult of the feelings of believers"; criticism of overspending of local governor — "insult of the authorities"; publishing a poem in support of Ukraine — "inciting hatred" etc.[2][3] A separate class of materials blocked due to "extremism" are several religious publications, mostly Muslim and Jehovah's Witnesses. Bans can be challenged in courts, and in some cases these appeals are successful.[17][18]

Increase in Internet censorship[edit]

According to data published by the Russian Society for Internet Users founded by members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, instances of censorship increased by a factor of 1,5 from 2013 to 2014. The incidents documented include not only instances of Internet blocking but also the use of force to shut down Internet users, such as beatings of bloggers or police raids.[19]

Human rights NGO Agora reported that instances of internet censorship increased ninefold from 2014 to 2015, rising from 1,019 to 9,022.[20]

A ban on all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia, including VPN software, anonymizers, and instructions on how to circumvent government website blocking, was passed in 2017.[21]

Proposals for further controls[edit]

In 2015, Russia's Security Council proposed a number of further Internet controls to prevent hostile "influence on the population of the country, especially young people, intended to weaken cultural and spiritual values". Prevention of this "influence" also includes active countermeasures such as actions targeted at the population and young people of the states attempting to weaken Russia's cultural values.[22] Another initiative proposes giving Roskomnadzor right to block any domain within the .ru TLD without a court order.[23]

In February 2016, the business daily Vedomosti reported on a draft law by the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications titled "On an Autonomous Internet System". The bill calls for placing the domains .ru and .рф under government control and would make installation of the Russian state surveillance system SORM mandatory.[3]

Monitoring[edit]

SORM system[edit]

Russia's System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) requires telecommunications operators to install hardware provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB). It allow the agency to unilaterally monitor users' communications metadata and content, including phone calls, email traffic and web browsing activity.[8] Metadata can be obtained without a warrant.[8] In 2014, the system was expanded to include social media platforms, and the Ministry of Communications ordered companies to install new equipment with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) capability.[24]

Data retention[edit]

The "Bloggers law" (passed July 2014) is an amendment to existing anti-terrorism legislation which includes data localization and data retention provisions. Among other changes, it requires all web services to store the user data of Russian citizens on servers within the country. Sites which did not comply with this requirement by September 2016 may be added to the internet blacklist.[25][26] Since August 2014, the law requires operators of free Wi-Fi hotspots (e.g. in restaurants, libraries, cafes etc.) to collect personal details of all users, identify them using passports, and store the data.[27]

The "Yarovaya law" (passed July 2016) is a package of several legislative amendments which include extensions to data retention. Among other changes, it requires telecom operators to store recordings of phone conversations, text messages and users' internet traffic for up to 6 months, as well as metadata for up to 3 years. This data as well as "all other information necessary" is available to authorities on request and without a court order.[28]

As of January 2018, companies registered in Russia as "organizers of information dissemination", such as online messaging applications, will not be permitted to allow unidentified users.[29]

Mass media[edit]

On Mass Media
Federal Law No. 2121-1, "On Mass Media"
Citation 2121-1
Date passed 27 December 1991

The federal telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor can issue warnings to the editorial board of mass media and websites registered as mass media concerning "abuse of mass media freedom."[3] According to the "Law on Mass Media", such abuse can include "extremist" content, information on recreational drug use, the propagation of cruelty and violence, as well as obscene language.[3] [30]

If a media outlet receives two warnings within a year, Roskomnadzor can request a court order shutting down the media outlet entirely.[3]

Internet blacklist[edit]

On Amending Federal Law "On the Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and Other Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation"
Citation 139-FZ
Date passed 11 July 2012
Date commenced 1 November 2012
Summary
Implements a central Internet blacklist ("single register")

Legislation[edit]

In July 2012, Russia's State Duma passed a law requiring the establishment of an Internet blacklist. The law took effect on 1 November 2012.[31] The blacklist Is administered by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) and the Federal Drug Control Service of Russia.[32]

On Amending Federal Law "On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection"
Citation 398-FZ
Date passed 20 December 2013
Summary
Allows additional categories of content to be blocked without a court order

At the time of introduction the list was described as a means for the protection of children from harmful content; particularly content which glorifies drug usage, advocates suicide or describes suicide methods, or contains child pornography.[33] In 2013 legislative amendments allowed the blocking of content "suspected in extremism", "calling for illegal meetings", "inciting hatred" and any other actions "violating the established order".[16] This content can be blocked without a court order by the office of the Prosecutor General.[34]

On Amending Federal Law "On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection"
Citation 276-FZ
Date passed 21 July 2017
Date enacted 29 July 2017
Date commenced 1 November 2017
Bill citation 195446-7
Summary
Bans all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia

In July 2017, Vladimir Putin signed a bill that bans all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia. The law takes effect on 1 November 2017 and outlaws VPN softwareand anonymizers which do not implement the Russia's internet filters, as well as any instructions on how to circumvent government website blocking.[21][35][36]

Implementation[edit]

The implementation of the blacklist is outlined in a government decree issued in October 2012.[37]

Roskomnadzor 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.[38] If the material is not removed within three days, the website will be added to the blacklist, and all Russian ISPs must block it.[39] The full content of the blacklist initially was not available to the general public,[38] although soon after it was implemented, a leaked list of blacklisted websites was published by a LiveJournal user on 12 November 2012.[40]

The searchable blacklist interface was made available as a full list by activists. As of July 2017 it includes over 70,000 entries.[41]

Reaction[edit]

Russian Wikipedia during its 2012 protest against 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.[42] In 2012, when the banned content only included child pornography, drugs and suicide, the human rights activists have expressed fear that the blacklist may be used to censor democracy-oriented websites[33] (which indeed happened the next year).[16] 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.[43] However, the idea was at that time generally supported by the Russian public: in a September 2012 Levada Center survey, 63% of respondents had expressed support for "Internet censorship",[44][45] though any kind of censorship is banned under the Constitution of Russia.

The 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."[46]

Instances of censorship[edit]

A number of websites maintain lists of websites currently blocked in Russia, based on different sources of information.[47][48]

Notable instances of censorship:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paul Goble (2015-03-29). "FSB Increasingly Involved in Misuse of ‘Anti-Extremism’ Laws, SOVA Says". The Interpreter Magazine. Retrieved 2015-04-01. 
  2. ^ a b "Examples of forbidden content". Zapretno.info. 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Russia | Country report | Freedom on the Net | 2016". freedomhouse.org. Retrieved 2017-07-04. 
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders (Paris), 12 March 2012
  6. ^ "Internet Enemies", Enemies of the Internet 2014: Entities at the heart of censorship and surveillance, Reporters Without Borders (Paris), 11 March 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  7. ^ Soldatov, Andrei; Borogan, Irina (2016-11-29). "Putin brings China's Great Firewall to Russia in cybersecurity pact". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-04. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Maréchal, Nathalie (2017-03-22). "Networked Authoritarianism and the Geopolitics of Information: Understanding Russian Internet Policy". Media and Communication. 5 (1): 29. ISSN 2183-2439. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i1.808. Retrieved 2017-07-03. 
  9. ^ a b "Report by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles on his Visits to the Russian Federation". Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights. 2005-04-20. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  10. ^ 33m internet users in Russia, IT & Telecoms in Russia
  11. ^ "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000–2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013, retrieved 22 June 2013
  12. ^ "Statistics". ITU. Retrieved 2017-07-04. 
  13. ^ "Russian prosecutors eye Internet censorship", Agence France-Presse (AFP), 23 April 2008.
  14. ^ Russia "Is No Enemy of the Internet", Kirill Pankratov, The Moscow Times, 8 April 2009
  15. ^ "Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation" (full text) (in Russian), (digest[permanent dead link]) , November 2009
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  18. ^ Service, Forum 18 News. "Forum 18 Archive: RUSSIA: More literature, website and video bans, but one partially overturned – 20 March 2015". www.forum18.org. Retrieved 2015-08-23. 
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  30. ^ https://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_1511/285787630b41d4963964c4c89fada1196a65cf3e/#dst100030
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Maréchal, Nathalie (2017-03-22). "Networked Authoritarianism and the Geopolitics of Information: Understanding Russian Internet Policy". Media and Communication. 5 (1): 29. ISSN 2183-2439. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i1.808. Retrieved 2017-07-03. 
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  41. ^ "Реестр запрещенных сайтов" [Registry of banned sites]. reestr.rublacklist.net (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-07-05. 
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  84. ^ by the Central District Court of the city of Tver, located 100 miles (160 km) north of Moscow
  85. ^ On 22 January 2014 the Regional Court of Tver 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."Russian Court Overturns Attempt to Ban Bible-Education Website-JW.org", Jehovah's Witnesses, 21 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014.[better source needed][better source needed]
  86. ^ Russia bans JW.org, Jehovah's Witnesses July 2015[better source needed]
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  94. ^ http://minjust.ru/ru/node/243787 page 453, item 4071 "Плакат с изображением человека, похожего на президента РФ В.В. Путина, на лице которого макияж – накрашены ресницы и губы, что, по замыслу автора/авторов плаката, должно служить намеком на якобы нестандартную сексуальную ориентацию президента РФ. Текст под изображением (воспроизводится с сохранением особенностей орфографии и пунктуации, с сокрытием нецензурной лексики): «Избиратели Путина, как ... вроде бы их много, но среди моих знакомых их нет», размещенный 07 мая 2014 года в социальной сети «Вконтакте» на аккаунте http://vk.com/id161877484 с ник-неймом «Александр Цветков» (решение Центрального районного суда г. Твери от 11.05.2016);"
  95. ^ Robins-Early, Nick (6 April 2017). "Russia Bans 'Extremist' Image Of Putin In Makeup". Retrieved 15 June 2017 – via Huff Post. 

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