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The Incredible Shrinking RuNet

Published: May 22, 2014 (Issue # 1811)


Over the past two years, the Russian government has armed itself to the teeth with regulatory powers that enable nearly every conceivable form of Internet censorship. In the summer of 2012, the state created a federal registry, where it can blacklist any website or entire web domain for hosting content deemed to be harmful to minors. Earlier this year, the Prosecutor Generals Office gained the right to add to the registry extrajudicially any web address guilty of encouraging extremism.

Since February, the Prosecutor Generals Office has added more than 100 websites to the federal blacklist, including the well-known independent news portals Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru and Ej.ru. Additionally, prosecutors have banned several websites belonging to Russias most prominent political blogger, Alexei Navalny, who is also under house arrest.

The Russian establishment certainly has not shied from stirring up trouble on the Internet, where Kremlin-friendly oligarchs have interfered with media outlets like Gazeta.ru, Lenta.ru, and Dozhd television, and forced Pavel Durov, the founder and CEO of the countrys largest social network, Vkontakte, to emigrate. These intrusions on Internet freedom, however, have come in the familiar form of backroom machinations, where meddling shareholders, layoffs and private phone calls intervene against independent-minded troublemakers.

Yet, despite the apparent reliability of micromanaging the Russian media with traditional pressures, lawmakers are signaling their interest in yet another wave of Internet regulations. The new proposals, still in the early development stage, would grant the government powers that are drastic, even in comparison to the recent anti-terrorism package.

The first suggestion belongs to Maxim Kavdzharadze, a senator in the Federation Council, who is calling on Russia to institute its own Internet separate from the U.S. and Europe. Citing security concerns about Western surveillance, Kavdzharadze warns that everyone has joined social networks, where they tell where theyve been and where theyre going.

While the public laughed about Kavdzharadzes dreams of Internet autarky, Kommersant published an article on April 29 about another, seemingly far more serious government initiative. According to Kommersants anonymous sources, a Kremlin working group is drafting new regulations that would grant the state, what reporters describe as, total control over the Internet.

The plan would force Internet providers to use DNS servers located in Russia, allowing the government to manage the way URL addresses match IP addresses, making it possible to disrupt the way Internet users access websites. Officials would also institute a tiered system for all online data transfers, barring local and regional networks from interacting with networks located abroad. At all levels of the Internet, the government intends to filter content. Finally, the working group proposes transferring the duties of the Coordination Center for the .ru and . domains to an agency inside the Kremlin, laying the foundation for greater state control over what could become privileged domains inside Russia.

The governments accumulation of online censorship tools resembles an arms race. So far, the Kremlin has refrained from unloading its full arsenal on the countrys 65 million Internet users. Yes, there have been isolated attacks on information freedom, as the Attorney Generals persecution of Navalny and several news portals attests, but the RuNets general independence survives, for the most part, albeit unsteadily. If this is indeed an arms race, however, the Kremlin might one day soon decide that its well enough equipped to snuff out the political threat inherent in a free RuNet.

Should that moment arrive, Russia would become a very different place.

Kevin Rothrock is the project editor of Global Voices RuNet Echo.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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