July 12, 2012

Will New Bill Bring Internet Censorship In Russia?

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Russian parliament yesterday unanimously decided to adopt a bill which allows them to exercise a greater control over the Internet. Now, many Russians are worried this is just the first step to widespread censorship by the Russian government.

Only one man stands between this bill and the law: Russia´s president, Vladimir Putin.

Similar to the Internet protests which occurred when the U.S. Government voted on bills SOPA and PIPA, some Russian websites–such as search engine Yandex, LiveJournal, and the Russian version of Wikipedia–used their sites as a platform to speak out against the new bill. The Russian Wikipedia, for example, went black once more in protest, warning visitors the bill could “lead to the creation of a Russian analogue to China´s great firewall.

The bill´s authors say the new measures would help crack down on offensive and troublesome sites, such as sites which feature child-pornography or sites which promote drug use and suicide. Should Putin sign this bill into law, the Russian Government would create a sort of federal blacklist for any site which is found to be outside of the regulations. The owners and operators of these blacklisted sites would be forced to take down and remove these sites.

Though this bill was unanimously passed through the Duma, Russia´s Parliament, the calls of the protestors may have been heard after all. For instance, according to the Guardian, MPs sought out and removed any vague language which could have been used to immediately shut down any site with the ambiguously defined “bad content.” The Duma instead opted to use more specific language, shutting down sites which contain child pornography, drug use or suicide. Any other site with questionable content would require a court-order before being placed on the blacklist and subsequently removed.  If these websites cannot be taken down, the ISPs and hosting companies responsible for the site will be forced to take it down on their end.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev backed the law as he spoke to Radio Free Europe.

“People's basic rights and freedoms must be upheld, including the right to information on the one hand and the right to be protected against harmful content on the other hand.”

Those who oppose Putin have long feared that such a crackdown on the Internet could happen and now worry that this bill will be the final stop in between Putin and censorship.

“The need to fight child pornography and illegal content are as important for civil society as the support of constitutional principles like freedom of speech and access [to] information,” writes chief editor of Yandex, Yelena Kolmanovskaya, in a statement.

“The proposed methods provide a means for possible abuse and raise numerous questions from the side of users and representatives of internet companies.”

On the other side of the bill, Yelena Mizulina, the bill´s co-author, had some harsh words for those like Kolmanovskaya who oppose the bill, saying they belong to the “paedophilia lobby.”

“The online community initiated the need for adopting this law themselves, that´s why I´m sure not all of the online community is against it — just certain circles that can be associated with the paedophilia lobby.”

Russia is often seen as the “shady” part of town on the Internet, as most of the world´s cyber attacks and Internet spam originate in Russia.