Russia Introduces Bill to Ban VPNs and Tor

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In an attempt to further step up its ability to censor the internet, Russia sets its foot down on web anonymiser services, such as: VPNs by introducing a bill at the state parliament the “Duma” to ban these services should they allow access to any restricted websites in Russia.

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Internet censorship by definition is the suppression of an individual’s right to access or publish web content. Over the past few years, internet censorship carried out by governments has grown drastically to become a major social issue and a battle to protect the citizen’s right to an open internet. In a recent report published by Freedom House, two-thirds of internet users around the world are censored by their government. One of the countries that engaged in taking a notorious curve when practicing internet censorship is Russia. Russia has been working very hard to strengthen its internet sovereignty by imposing jarring restrictions and regulations on the kind of news that should be accessible to the public, legalising data retention laws known as “Yarovaya’s laws”, which require companies to store their clients’ data for a up to 3 years and keep “keys” to encrypted communications, as well as banning certain websites. A lot of domains have been banned due to several reasons, including: copyright infringement or extremism. In addition, a lot of popular social networking sites including LinkedIn have been blocked in a traditional censorious fashion for publishing inappropriate material. Furthermore, the Russian government passed laws to give it full access to cables, domain names and exchange points to hold the upper hand over the internet in the country.

In light of these facts, Russian netizens started looking for alternative methods, such as: VPNs, proxies, Tor and mirror sites to regain their online freedom and privacy and bypass web restrictions without being tracked by the government. Anonymiser services, like VPNs encrypt internet users’ data traffic through a chain of encryption protocols and algorithms and provide them with fake IP addresses to be able to bypass their ISP’s filtration systems and unblock any restricted or unauthorised web content in complete anonymity.

In response to this act of defiance, as seen by the Russian government, a bill has been submitted to the State Duma to ban such services in case they allow their users to access any content on the web that is restricted by the Russian government. This means that Russian telecom watchdog “Rozcomnadzor” will be obliged to filter out restricted domains to hunt down the services that allow any access to them (e.g: VPN), then a 72-hour notice will be given to such tools or services to disclose all data of their operators. In addition, 72 more hours will be given to the host to block any access to unauthorised domains. The penalty? Should operators fail to comply within a month, Russian ISPs will be forced to block all access to the service, and then eventually take it down off the internet.

“Should they refuse, the authors of the bill would impose a 30-day ban on such services,” Lenta reports.

The bill not only targets VPNs, proxies and Tor; but it also targets any search engine that provides links to unauthorised content in Russia. This would require giant search engines, such as: Google and Yandex to remove any source(links) to restricted web content, which would make it almost impossible to access banned content in Russia.

A Yandex spokesperson said, “We believe laying responsibilities on search engines is superfluous. Even if the reference to a resource does appear in search results, it does not mean that by clicking on it the user will get access, if it was already blocked by ISPs or in any other ways”.

Russian news media reported that deputies in Russia are considering providing access to the state register of restricted websites and mandating VPN operators to block them.

Internet censorship may vary from one country to another depending on the level of democracy in that country. Although some countries practice moderate censorship, other countries go to the extreme making the internet a hostile and an uninhabitable environment for netizens. Russia is clearly following in China’s footsteps to gag freedom of speech and strip netizens from their right to a free and safe internet environment.

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