In a thinly veiled attempt to gain control of the internet, the Russian State Duma has passed two bills designed to do two things: ostensibly halt the spread of “fake news” and keep people from spreading information that “disrespects” the government. But Russians aren’t having it.
On Sunday, thousands took to the streets across the country to protest the government’s “digital sovereignty bill” that will require all Russian telecoms companies to reroute internet traffic through the state telecom regulator, Roskomnadzor.
It means censorship and what protesters are now calling the rise of the “internet iron curtain”.
On March 7, the Russian State Duma—the lower house of parliament—passed the two bills, and now they go up for a second vote later this month. If passed, they will be signed into law by President Putin.
In Moscow alone on Sunday, some 15,000 took to the streets, Reuters reports.
Everyone saw it coming. The precursor to all of this was the April 2017 ban on VPNs used to bounce IP addresses around and mask location. That year, Putin signed into law that bill, prohibiting the use of internet proxy services.
Then, in April 2018, they banned Telegram, the messaging app that the authorities hate because it’s encrypted and makes it more difficult for them to monitor. Of course, the Kremlin’s spin is that it’s being used by terrorists, but that’s today’s justification for nearly every infringement on privacy rights (and not just in Russia). Dissent is what they’re after much more than terrorists.
But the ban on Telegram didn’t really work, according to The Moscow Times, citing critics of the move. But the new draft laws—if passed—could “give the government the sweeping ability to censor online content, and going forward, actually be able to block apps like Telegram” the English-language daily wrote.
The government’s moves against the internet are also being passed off as a cybersecurity necessity, and as part of the Kremlin’s goals to shut its cyberspace off to the rest of the world temporarily to simulate an all-out cyberwar. Ostensibly, this is to see how well an internet-independent Russia would fare if cut off by other nations. The reality is what we’re seeing now: Draconian measures to cut off any digital dissent. Related: Britain’s Billionaires Are Fleeing To Offshore Tax Havens
None of this is sudden. The Kremlin has been trying to control this since the late 1990s when they stepped up pressure on ISPs to track and hand over information on dissenters.
That was the birth of a massively invasive project called SORM. But SORM is about eavesdropping, and the new bills are about all-out control.
Population control is the new name of the game, and Russia seems bent on vying with China to see who can do it better.
China’s version is rather more subtle, if not more sinister for it. It’s also much broader and more invasive. Take the Chinese ‘social credit score’ system,
In September last year, Beijing rolled out a new platform called ‘Piyao’ which removes rumors and fake news disseminated online in a move said to control what Beijing considers disinformation.
Prior to that, we saw the emergence of China’s ‘Social Media Credit Score” system, which uses big data and AI algorithms to decide who is an upstanding citizen and to punish those who are—much like a financial credit score works, only far more sinister. Its goal, formally, is to “forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust if glorious”. Put differently, it will marginalize and ostracize anyone who doesn’t have a high score—which means making it difficult to get jobs, or even (as we recently saw) travel by plane.
China’s is a bit more insidious because at its heart it is designed to actually convince the population to do its dirty work for it, while Russia takes a more aggressive and open approach to control.
But we can also see where things are going in Russia in a less complicated way. Take the ban on VPNs for instance: In China, Apple has agreed to remove most major VPN apps from its local App Store at Beijing request, RFE/RL points out. It wants the massive Chinese market badly enough to play by Beijing’s rules.
By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com