The Federation Council in Russia just approved 2 laws that are intended to legalize the use of censorship bypassing services like VPNs, Tor, and proxies, in addition to the use of online messaging services that encrypt the information transmitted through them such as WhatsApp. They also are supposed to tighten the government’s control over search engines. In other words, the government in Russia just gave the final stab to a free internet.
The law that is intended for censorship bypassing services states that all of these services are obliged to ban any websites that are banned by the government, and if any provider breaks that rule will be banned itself to be accessed by any users in Russia. The one related to the online services obligates these services to have their users register using their phone numbers. This will allow the authorities to block certain subscribers or even messages. Last but not least, the law related to search engines, similar to that related to VPNs, obligates these search engines not to display search results of websites that are banned by the government.
“If they take effect, these bills will drive one of the last nails into the coffin of Internet freedom in Russia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
These 2 laws are at their final stage now which is the desk of President Vladimir Putin awaiting to be signed, but it is known that the president almost never rejects these kinds of laws. If signed, the law banning the use of VPNs would take effect starting from November this year and the law related to the online messaging services and search engines would take effect starting January 2018.
“The free Internet has just hours to live in Russia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “As we feared, the Duma has decided to step up censorship and surveillance of Internet users. We again condemn this escalation in draconian legislation, which tramples on the rights of Russian citizens and threatens the digital sector.”
Once these laws take effect, Russia will enter an even darker online environment than it already is. Russia now is ranked one of the highest countries in the world when it comes to internet censorship and denial of freedom of speech according to the global index by Reporters without Borders. According to the RSF’s index it comes in at 148th out of 180 countries around the world. It is considered one of the world black zones in the internet. Adding to that these laws, that will officially be the death of internet freedom in Russia.