Free-speech advocates say the creation of an Internet "blacklist" could
lead to widespread censorship. Critics also fear authorities could use
the new legislation to block opposition websites by planting banned
material. Reporters Without Borders slammed the Russian government in a statement
for failing to "resolve the law's contradictions and to eliminate those
that pose threats to freedom."
'Sounds Like a Joke'
Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov himself warned that
the law could result in Russians being denied access to YouTube over its
posting of a recent anti-Islam film that sparked deadly rioting across
much of the Muslim world. "It sounds like a joke, but because of this video," he wrote on
Twitter in September, "all of YouTube could be blocked throughout
For Russian Internet groups, there is the added concern that the new law
could damage the appeal of Russia's booming online industry. In the run-up to the bill's adoption, the Russian-language version of
Wikipedia shut down its page for one day in protest, and Yandex,
Russia's top search engine, ran a black banner on its homepage.
"One thing Yandex and other Internet companies disapproved of was the
possibility of IP blocking," Ochir Mandzhikov, a Yandex spokesman in
Moscow, said. "This seems exaggerated to us since absolutely
decent sites can be targeted for carrying bad content. We also consider
that the list should be open so that people can better understand which
sites are blocked and why. This lack of openness and transparency is
generating concerns." Mandzhikov says Yandex will nonetheless abide by the new law and hopes it will be implemented without "any excesses."
Roskomnadzor, the federal service for the supervision of communications,
information technology, and communications, has been tasked with
implementing the new legislation. It has opened a website
to inform the public. But the site has yet to publish its "blacklist"
of banned Internet resources. Users are instead asked to enter a
specific web address to check whether it has been placed on the list. Roskomnadzor says the site has already fought off several hacker attacks.
Under the new law, the owner of the site or web host must remove
offensive content or block access within three days of being notified. If the site is still accessible after this period, Internet service providers are asked to shut it down.
Despite the controversy, a number of analysts say the law is a first
step toward bringing some transparency to the Russian Internet. Information rights expert Rassolov says the legislation will also make
the "K" department, the Interior Ministry's cybercrime-busting agency,
more accountable. "As we speak, the 'K' department is closing websites. Every day, sites
are shut down," Rassolov says. "The law simply spells out the rules of
the game, the norms according to which this is done. Despite all the
talk surrounding this law and how it can be used, it's still better to
have transparent procedural norms than not. How this law will be
implemented is another issue."
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.