International Trial Attorneys Association

Tech Companies Protest Russian “Censorship” Bill

The lower house of the Russian legislature has already adopted a bill which could impose serious limitations on internet freedom, to a degree which some are calling censorship. The bill is yet to be signed, and various Russian tech companies are working continuously to protest its adoption and influence changes in the language of the new law, which includes amendments to several laws already on the books.

The purpose of the law is to make it simpler and easier to block dangerous and explicit harmful material such as drug promotion, child pornography, and instructions about how to commit suicide, a goal which even the protesting parties agree is a worthwhile one. IT companies take issue with the means that are proposed in the legislation however, which currently involve IP and DNS blockades.

Protests have already had the effect of making the definition of illegal content much clearer in the language of the laws, as well as significantly reducing the list of authorities which will be capable of blacklisting a site, but the core issue of government having the legal authority to blacklist entire domains on the basis of illegal content uploaded by an individual user remains. Representatives of Wikimedia, the parent organization of Wikipedia, have also been included in the working group which is overseeing the development and implementation of the bill.

Key state officers such as Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev have said definitively that Russia’s Internet will remain a “territory of freedom”, but evidence to the contrary is concerning. Google’s blog service Blogger is a prime example of the potential implications of blacklisting domains when only part of the hosted content is illegal. Following the discovery of illegal bog posts on the service the entire domain was blocked from access, making it impossible to access any of the 1.3 million other blogs hosted on Blogger. The offending content was removed as soon as Google became aware of it, but the Russian telecommunications operator continues to block the IP, in accordance with a court decision regarding the case.

Another example involved a local Internet provider blocking the entire YouTube domain due to an individual video hosted on the service being deemed illegal. Debate and development continues in the Russian legislature with the input of Russian IT companies receiving consideration, but the outcome of the bill and means of its implementation remains unclear.