Vladimir Putin is going to new lengths to control not just the actions, but the words of his people. The Russian president just signed a new law, passed by the legislature on Monday, that will allow the government to monitor and censor more of the Internet. This comes on the same day that he ruled that swearing is not allowed in movies, theater, or in concerts as of July 1.
The online regulations, which go into effect August 1, are aimed at silencing opposition websites, while also providing the Russian government with a wealth of user data. The law requires blogs with 3,000 or more unique visitors per day to register as "mass media." Those bloggers will be held to the same standards as other mass media, in that they will be "required to certify the factual accuracy of the information in their blogs" or risk punishment.
Irina Yarovaya, one of the leading sponsors of the law, told NPR, "In principle, anonymity is always deception. It's a wish to mislead someone. I can't see any reason to raise lying to [the status of] a human virtue or an understanding of what freedom is." The new regulations can, and likely will, successfully shutter digital anonymity in Russia.
Another clause in the law is directed at a practice opposition bloggers have taken up recently: revealing the personal information, such as addresses and secret bank accounts, of public officials. The law now prohibits revealing information about a person's home and personal life online.
The law also requires that all distributors of online content keep user data for six months after its creation within Russia. This will allow the Kremlin direct access to email providers and social networks that serve Russian citizens. The six-month storage clause will force foreign Internet providers to comply with Russia's request for user data, or else risk getting subpoenaed by the Russian government.
This is not so simple, as a company can be active in Russia without having servers there. Putin is looking to change that: "With regard to the civil sphere, here it is necessary to transfer servers. It is possible to do, but it takes time and capital investment." However flawed, his thought process for this law seems to be that he wants to creating a local version of the U.S.-dominated server system. But he is going one step further, aiming to use servers as a state-controlled data source. While the subpoenas might be sent, it is unlikely that companies without Russian-based servers would comply. This includes the likes of Facebook and Twitter, though Google does have one server in Russia.
If a website or internet provider does not comply with the Kremlin's request for data, they will be hit with a fine of 50,000 to 300,000 Rubles ($1,413 to $8,479 USD.) This is a minimal fine for web giants like Google, but for smaller websites, it could take them out of business completely. The compliance regulations do not stop there. In the event the fines aren't doing the trick, websites can be shut down or have their content filtered. In a worst case scenario, Google and its subsidiaries (mainly YouTube) could become banned in Russia.
While Putin is hungry for information about his internal opposition, this law also stems from a resurgence in Cold War sentiment. Putin associates the world wide web with the United States, recently telling reporters: "You do know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special CIA project. And this is the way it is developing."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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