Internet censorship in Russia
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Russian Federation
Internet censorship in the Russian Federation is enforced based on Russian Internet Restriction Bill, 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 Federal blacklist maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media 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 was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and production, suicide, and child pornography. Later, the law was amended to allow the blockage of sites containing materials that advocate extremism or any other content subject to a gag order. These regulations have been frequently abused to block criticism of the federal government or local administration.
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. In December 2015, most part of country, 92.8 million Russians (70% of the population) have Internet 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 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.
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".
First countywide judicial measures against the Russian Internet users were taken by the government in 2012, during the wave of 2011–13 Russian protests when the Internet blacklist law was enacted. The list initially only included child pornography, advocating suicide and illegal drugs, but shortly was extended to include "extremist materials", which, in practice, can be used to block virtually any content due to its very flexible interpretation. 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 federalisation of Siberia — as "attack on the foundations of the constitution"; article on a gay activist being fired from job — 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. A separate class of materials blocked based on the "extremism" are reglious publications, mostly Muslim and Jehovah's Witnesses. Bans can be challenged in courts, and in some cases these appeals are successful.
In 2015 an Association of Internet Users in Russia published a map of freedom of speech violations in different regions of Russia in 2014, stating that the number of violations has increased by 150% as compared to the previous year. The incidents documented include not only instances of Internet censorship but also physical force such as beating of bloggers or police raids.
In 2015 Council of Security of Russian Federation 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. Another initiative proposes giving Roskomnadzor right to block any domain within the .ru TLD without a court order.
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, was at that time described as means for the protection of children from harmful content; particularly that which glorifies drug usage, advocates suicide or describes suicide methods, or contain child pornography.
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. 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.
In 2013 the blacklist law was, as expected by the human rights activists, amended with a clause to block content "suspected in extremism", mentioning explicitly actions such as "calling for illegal meetings", "inciting hatred" and any other actions "violating the established order".
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. 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 (which indeed happened the next year). 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 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", 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 requires all web services to store the user data of Russian citizens on servers within the country. Sites which do not comply with this requirement by September 2016 may be added to the blacklist.
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 of terrorist attacks on Russian forces in the North Caucasus.
- During the December 2008 demonstrations in Vladivostok, it was reported by the Kontury news website that FSB officers issued a request that moderators of the ru_auto Internet community remove stories about the protests. The major reason, as reported by a moderator of the resource, was that repeating posts containing information about the protests worsened 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 blocked access to some Russian opposition Internet resources for its Moscow-based subscribers for a few days. This occurred after the chief prosecutor of St. Petersburg recommended that the company prevent access to extremist resources. The only Internet resource listed as extremist by the Ministry of Justice of Russia at the time was that of the Caucasian separatists, KavkazCenter.ru. Since the evening of 6 December 2009, Yota allowed access to all previously blocked resources except KavkazCenter.ru.
- On 8 April 2012, it was confirmed by Roskomnadzor that several Russian and English Wikipedia articles had been blacklisted.
- In July 2012, the Russian State Duma passed the Bill 89417-6, which provided a blacklist of Internet sites. The blacklist was officially launched in November 2012, despite criticism by major websites and NGOs.
- The IP address of Lurkmore.to (Lurkomorye) was blocked on 11 November 2012 after a decision of the Federal Drug Control Service of Russia; the owner of the site told journalists 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.
- On 31 March 2013 the New York Times reported that Russia was "Selectively Blocking [the] Internet".
- On 5 April 2013, a spokesperson for Roskomnadzor confirmed that the Russian Wikipedia had been blacklisted because of the article, "Cannabis smoking".
- 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 opposed the Russian government, were blocked for "making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order."
- DECEMBER 2, 2014 — Supreme Court of the Russian Federation bans jw.org
- In August 2014 a number of websites were blocked as the war in Donbass developed, including the Ukrainian news site, Glavnoe.ua, a survey about the separation of the Caucasus from Russia and numerous announcements and commentaries about the "march for Siberia federalisation".
- In 2014, a media blackout was launched against a performance art project called Monstration scheduled for 17 August. Roskomnadzor issued warnings to fourteen media outlets for reporting the announcement. The project was compared to Euromaidan, which led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
- In October 2014 Roskomnadzor blocked the Internet Wayback Machine, well known for its Archive.org website. A number of websites listing blocked addresses was also blocked, including such as Zapretno.info.
- In October and December 2014, a popular source code repository, GitHub, was temporarily blocked for hosting a page containing (mostly) satirical suicide instructions, frequently used to troll the Russian censorship system.
- In December 2014 a Facebook page protesting an event against the prosecution of Alexey Navalny was blocked in the Russian Federation. A Roskomnadzor representative stated that the page was blocked because it promoted an "unsanctioned mass event".
- In January 2015 a number of Bitcoin related websites were blocked (including bitcoin.org) because "it contributes to shadow economy". In February, Bitstamp was unblocked.
- An on-line article by Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta was blocked for unspecified "extremism", most likely a suggestion that "Russian culture only became great when it mixed with European".
- After a Russian consumer protection watchdog OZPP published a warning for Russian tourists about possibility of being denied EU visas after visiting Crimea, explaining that from the international law point of view Crimea is an occupied territory, Roskomnadzor blocked the OZPP website "for threatenting territorial integrity of Russian federation".
- In June 2015, some ISPs blocked the Internet Archive entirely following an order to censor a page contained within for containing "extremist" material. These blocks were a side effect of the site's use of HTTPS possibly being incompatible with how ISPs implement their filters.
- On 21 July 2015 the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses was banned throughout the Russian Federation. Jehovah's Witnesses say that the motion to ban them was originally filed on 7 August 2013 but was overturned after they voluntarily removed certain publications from the version of the site presented to Russian IP addresses. However, on December 2, 2014 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned the Regional Court, stating that the Witnesses might choose to reinstate the materials they had volunteered to remove.
- As of August 2015[update], 4 Wikipedia articles remain blocked in Russia, and more than 25 were blocked for some time. Most of these articles are related to drugs and suicide.
- On 25 January 2016 Rutracker.org, the biggest torrent tracker in Russia and CIS countries, with about 13 million users, was permanently blocked by Roskomnadzor as a result of a decision of the Moscow City Court.
- On 28 January 2016, pages related to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation were blocked on Archive.is when accessed through non-encrypted traffic. HTTPS traffic to the website was blocked entirely.
- On 4 August 2016, a Moscow court ruled that LinkedIn must be blocked in Russia because it stores the user data of Russian citizens outside of the country, in violation of the new data retention law. This ban was upheld on 10 November 2016. and the ban was officially issued by Roskomnadzor on 17 November 2016.
- Media freedom in Russia
- Internet in Russia
- Political repression of cyber-dissidents
- Censorship of GitHub in Russia
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- by the Central District Court of the city of Tver, located 100 miles (160 km) north of Moscow
- 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]
- Russia bans JW.org, Jehovah's Witnesses July 2015[better source needed]
- ru:Википедия:Страницы Википедии, внесённые в Единый реестр запрещённых сайтов, Retrieved 2015-08-21[better source needed]
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