Russia continues to crack down on Internet freedom
Russia has been an interesting no man's land for Internet freedom for years, even as American whistleblower Edward Snowden has taken refuge in the country after the fallout of exposing thousands of government-guarded documents to the general public in the spring of 2013. According to a recent article from newscast PRI's The World, popular websites like Facebook and Twitter remain at risk for being shut down to better censor the materials that the general public is able to consumer. Here's a brief look at the measures being taken by Russian officials now, and their history of censoring the public in the past.
Facebook in Russia today
PRI's The World contributor Charles Mayne updated the general public on where Internet freedom currently stands in the country.
"Russia says the law is to protect Russian data from US snooping," the source explained. "But observers argue the real purpose is to give Russia's security services something they've have never had before – 'back door' access to the profile data of Russian internet users that's held by Western tech companies."
That is to say, any usage of social media is perceived by the Russian government as a massive risk that isn't worth taking for the country. In fact, President Putin once referred to the Internet as the "C.I.A. Project," claiming that the tool is little more than a way for other countries and intelligence agencies to mine information about the highly secretive governmental culture in the country. As a result, Putin has decreed that all Internet servers being used in Russia must be moved to native soil by September 2016, imposing a "server law" that will give the country heightened ability to monitor information coming in and out of the country.
This law extends to companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well and is intended to invert U.S. surveillance, according to an interview Mayne conducted with Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer with the Russian Association of Internet Users.
"After Snowden's revelations, our authorities said, 'Okay, we don't want the Americans to monitor our people – we want to monitor them,'" he explained to the source.
Russia's past with censorship on the Internet
Though the server law is one of the first major, permanent actions to be taken versus Internet freedom in the country, Russia has a history of muting or completely eliminating citizens' ability to access certain websites. While Putin was in favor of maintaining an open Internet toward the beginning of his term as president, this attitude quickly changed as the government began to censor individual URLs, domain names and IP addresses.
In the spring of 2014, Russia took its censorship cues from China when Putin demanded the regulation of Russian bloggers who generated 3000 or more readers – about 30,000 bloggers had their independent publications reclassified as media outlets, according to a report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Contributors Ilya Khrennikov and Anastasia Ustinova intereviewed Matthew Scaaf, a program officer at the Washington-based Freedom House research group about the motivation for this change.
"This law is a step toward segmenting and nationalizing the Internet and putting it under the Kremlin's control," Schaaf explained.
Like the server law, reclassifying blogs gives the Russian government the ability to censor with ease, just as having servers on native soil will make observation of citizen and international activity more feasible and thorough.
The next couple years in Russia will likely be characterized by this great migration of servers to Russian soil, and the resulting governmental security policies that may be put in place to accommodate this massive change. Though there's no way to tell exactly what's ahead, it's clear that change is in the air in terms of what Russian citizens will be able to access in the near future.