Thursday, November 01, 2012

Russia begins Internet censorship

A new law comes into force today which will allow Russian authorities to block Internet sites. A blacklist has been drawn up of websites which promote suicide, drug use or depict extreme pornography, however opponents fear the new law could be used to restrict political websites and undermine free speech.

Critics say that the new law creates a legal and technical infrastructure, forcing internet providers to buy millions of dollars in filtering equipment, which could later be used to shut down access to vast parts of the Internet with very little public accountability.

According to reports the list will include not just URLs but intellectual property addresses, meaning an entire web portal such as Wikipedia could be added to the list should a single page within the domain fall foul of the new restrictions.

It has already prompted anger online. Yandex, the country's number one search engine, and the Russian language Wikipedia have both staged protests on their sites [BBC]. 

The law was approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin in July. While the stated intent is to protect children online human rights groups believe it may be the beginning of a Great Firewall of Russia.

China has often claimed its Internet restrictions are intended to prevent the dissemination of pornography. However, the blocking of pornographic websites is often arbitrary while the censorship of political dissent or discourse is wide sweeping.

While many countries block or restrict Internet access, Russia has been seen as relatively liberal in its approach. However as political concerns grow, some fear that the Putin government is using its power to suppress all forms of opposition.

Further reports: BBC / FT

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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