Russia Illegalizes VPNs

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What was previously a scary discussion in Russia has become a law that will place a huge burden over VPNs and how they operate in Russia. On Friday, the first part of a bill was approved by a unanimous vote that would illegalize VPNs or any other software used to bypass the online restrictions placed by the Russian Government.

The vote in the state Duma, which is the lower house of Russia’s Assembly, was 360-0 in favor of implementing regulatory laws on VPN services and any software used to bypass website bans or help in the online anonymity of internet users.

The English-language news site devoted to Russian Affairs; Meduza, stated that if the legislation is adopted, it would ban any software that allows access to any online content that was barred by Moscow’s censors.

“The bill’s sponsors would give the owners of VPN networks and internet anonymizers access to Russia’s registry of blocked online resources, so they could cut access to these websites. Any Internet circumvention tools that refuse to block access to banned resources would themselves be blocked,” Meduza further explained.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on Friday that anyone who violates this would subject to fines that start at 5,000 rubles and go all the way up to 700,000 rubles, which is equivalent to about $11,000.

Meduza also reported that; even though Moscow already has a tight grip when it comes to online restrictions, and control of digital freedom, yet Duma deputies argue that the system that is in place and responsible for these online restrictions is “not effective enough“.

Russian netizens use VPN service providers to hide their original IP addresses and route their data traffic in order to bypass Russia’s firewall and access banned websites by their ISPs. Those websites are listed by Roskomnadzor and provided to all internet service providers in Russia to block any access to them.

According to Freedom House, “The Russian authorities censor a wide range of topics online, most often under the pretext of anti-extremism measures”.

This bill was first drafted last April and was introduced to the Russian parliament, the Duma on June 8, 2017. Click here to learn more about it.