The first law that marked the beginning of the strict regulation of the internet in Russia will soon be seven and a half years old. Since then, dozens of new legal acts have appeared in our country, which have introduced new negative norms in relation to our digital rights or have further substantiated old ones.
We can distinguish between four areas of state regulation of the internet: control over content, online censorship, user communication control – online surveillance, imposing restrictions, sanctions and burdens on information intermediaries (providers, hosts, website owners, media, etc.), and control over infrastructure – communication networks, traffic exchange points, internet filters.
Our online censorship is governed by content blocking laws, which regularly get new categories of banned information and new agencies that have the power to rule on access restrictions. This is far from just Roskomnadzor, although this government agency is the main link in the chain of online censorship – all the decisions of departments and courts throughout Russia accumulates through it. In addition to Roskomnadzor, a dozen more actors have the authority to make decisions on the blocking – among them Rospotrebnadzor, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Tax service and even the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. Currently, according to Roskomsvoboda, government agencies and courts in Russia have blocked 276 thousand internet resources, and since November 2012 (when the Unified Register of banned sites entered into force) more than 600 thousand sites and services have been subject to state access restrictions. And that’s not counting the millions of internet resources that are blocked on technical grounds, such as sites on the same IP addresses as those prohibited in our country.
Another area of online censorship in Russia is bringing users to criminal and administrative responsibility for their publications on the internet or reposting and quoting. This can be punishment for words, music, pictures, memes, photos etc. There is a wide range in forms of punishment – from a fine of a few thousand rubles on administrative cases to several years of imprisonment, both on probation and with the actual serving of a term in the colony. The joint report of Agora and Roskomsvoboda “Internet Freedom 2019: plan “Fortress”” notes that last year alone, 200 people were prosecuted for online publications, where 38 of them were sentenced to imprisonment. About 4 thousand people were subjected to administrative punishment.
The sphere of online web tracking of users is also expanding in Russia. At present, it is connected with the introduction of new additions to SORM (system of operational and search measures), which is now in its third generation. Previously, this system was responsible for renting landlines and mobile phones for the benefit of intelligence agencies. Then there was a version for capturing internet traffic. And now, after the implementation of the so-called “Yarovaya package”, the FSB has received the right, firstly, to demand the operators to store all the transmitted traffic for six months and give access to it to representatives of intelligence services. Secondly, to demand the same from the internet services themselves – social networks, messengers, forums, postal services, file exchangers, etc. They are included in a special register of the information distributors. Unfortunately, the procedures for interaction of intelligence services with internet providers and services are extremely non-transparent. In addition, we regularly see the sensitive data of Russian citizens flowing from government databases to the black market.
One of the latest innovations in the regulation of internet in Russia is the beginning of a full-scale control over the network infrastructure, which was introduced by the law on Runet sovereignty. The lawmakers justified their actions by seeking protection from outside threats, but the implementation of the new law will create many threats from within – economic, social, legal, technological ones. Prices for internet and telephone services will rise (and are already rising), the speed of the internet will deteriorate due to the introduction of unnecessary filters for deep traffic analysis to improve service blockages, and the operator market will essentially become centralised and with maximum government intervention. The probability of increasing the number of shutdowns – disconnection of the internet during political meetings and civil actions – is also sharply increasing: now Roskomnadzor has the right to channel traffic and give operational orders to service providers on how to conduct an “internet signal” to the population.
The application of all these laws seriously affects our digital rights – freedom of speech and expression, secrecy of communication, the right to anonymity and the right to privacy. It also affects the economic well-being of the country. Excessive regulation of the IT sector, which is one of the leading in the modern world, negatively affects investments in it, leads to its incomplete development in such a rigid framework and to the migration of business to more prosperous and free jurisdictions.