Vladimir Putin makes major statements on internet freedom
President Vladimir Putin surprised Russian citizens and onlookers worldwide when he spoke on his opinion of Internet freedom at the Internet Entrepreneurship in Russia forum at the Silver City Business Center in Moscow earlier this week.
"We have had a lot of arguments over the bans, like those connected with pedophilia, propaganda of terrorism and illegal drugs, propaganda of suicide," Putin said. "But we are all grown up people. Do we really need to argue about this? Better to let us spare our children."
Understandably, these comments have sparked a huge discussion around current policies in the country. He acknowledged the dangers of certain types of websites but remained firm that their existence should not harm the free market, but will likely continue to limit the social media options made available to the people. Putin also made note of Russian Internet Service Providers that control a large amount of access across the country, and said that the state should be doing more to ensure that citizens have options for who provides their Internet.
"If all these companies [national search engines] have a single owner this is no longer a mission, this is a monopoly and monopoly is only good when it is your own," he joked, according to RT's website.
Putin's history with Internet legislation
The question remains – how does this affect the ongoing discussion of Internet freedom in the country?
Russia has been the poster child country for fluctuations in internet freedom policies, with popular social media sites being banned and unbanned from the country's networks over and over again to the chagrin of frustrated citizens. These constantly changing rules became national news following the Moscow protests that persisted throughout 2011 and 2012, which changed President Putin's stance on a free and open Internet. He began to implement laws that would limit freedom of speech on the web to any individual who appeared to be launching a criticism or call to action regarding the government. New Republic writer and former leading Russian web journalist Anton Nossik published an overview of Internet freedom in Russia during Putin's time in office, and specified the laws currently in place that stand to oppress the opinions of the everyday citizen.
"According to these new laws, any local or foreign website may be banned in Russia without explanation; and any blogger with a total audience over 3,000 readers must register as a mass-media institution with the government (this was included as part of the "antiterrorist legislation package" compiled after the Volgograd bus and railway bombings just ahead of the Olympics)," he explained.
However, this was not always the case – one only needs to go back to Putin's start as the president in 1999 to notice his past lobbying for Internet freedom, an attitude that prevailed until right before the Moscow protests in 2011. His administration regularly rejected proposals to regulate Internet freedom for over a decade afterward in spite of the president's past in working for the highly regulated KGB unit, and the ever-growing pool of Internet users were welcome to express themselves freely.
"Whenever we'll have to choose between excessive regulation and protection of online freedom, we'll definitely opt for freedom," he said in 1999, and kept the promise until the past two years.
Now, social media sites are required to report up to six months of activity to the government upon request to be allowed on the country's network, and this doesn't seem to be changing. Putin's comments at the Internet Entrepreneurship in Russia forum certainly acknowledged some ongoing problems regarding ISP monopolies and e-commerce restrictions, but it doesn't seem like the citizens will be expressing themselves on the web like they used to any time soon.