Everything You Need to Know About Russia's Internet Crackdown

Images mixed by author.

Images mixed by author.

The number of restrictions placed on the Internet in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 is daunting. What’s been outlawed and what’s still legal on the RuNet? To help people keep track of what’s what in Russian cyberspace, RuNet Echo has compiled a chronological list of the most important laws to hit the Russian Internet in the past two years. For each law, readers can find links to the legislation’s full text in Russian, as well as RuNet Echo articles in English describing the details and significance of each initiative.

The law that launched a thousand ships: creating the RuNet Blacklist

[The full text in Russian. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Signed by Putin on July 28, 2012. This is law that launched the crackdown on Internet freedom in Russia. The law created a government registry for websites found to contain materials deemed harmful to children. Illegal content under this law includes child pornography, drug paraphernalia, and instructions about self-harm. Without a court order, Russia’s federal communications agency is able to add to the registry any website hosting such material. Later laws have allowed police to blacklist other kinds of websites, too, using the infrastructure created here.

The ‘Russian SOPA’

[The full text of the original law in Russian. The text of the updated draft legislation. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Signed on July 2, 2013. Often referred to as the “Russian SOPA,” this is an anti-piracy law that allows courts to block websites accused of hosting stolen intellectual property. What ultimately reached Putin’s desk in July 2013 was a somewhat watered-down version of the initial legislation, which called for applying the law to a wide variety of content. (The law’s final text addressed only stolen films.) The Russian Parliament is poised, however, to pass a new bill later this year that will expand the law’s application to music, e-books, and software.

Blacklisting the news

[The full text in Russian. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Signed on December 28, 2013. This law gives Russia’s Attorney General the extrajudicial power to add to the RuNet Blacklist any websites containing “calls to riots, extremist activities, the incitement of ethnic and (or) sectarian hatred, terrorist activity, or participation in public events held in breach of appropriate procedures.” In March 2014, police used this law to block four major opposition websites, including three news portals and the blog of Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption activist. Since the law passed last year, the Attorney General as blacklisted 191 different Web addresses.

The law that got away: policing news-aggregators

In April 2014, Putin revealed at a public forum that the government was investigating the legal status of online news-aggregation services like Yandex News. In May, a Duma deputy asked the Russian Attorney General to issue a ruling about the status of Yandex News, to determine if the state should regulate such websites as mass media outlets. In early June, Yandex’s CEO joined Putin onstage at a forum on Internet entrepreneurship, where the two chatted amicably about the RuNet’s economic potential. On July 1, Russian newspapers reported that the Attorney General does not consider news-aggregation to qualify as mass media, aborting the Duma’s effort to impose new regulations on Yandex News and similar websites.

The anti-terrorism package, aka “the Bloggers Law”

[The full text in Russian. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Signed on May 5, 2014. This package consisted of three separate laws, hurried through the Duma after terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd in December 2013. Two of the laws added new Internet regulations, creating restrictions on electronic money transfers (banning all foreign financial transactions involving anonymous parties) and extensive requirements for governing the activity of “popular bloggers” and the data retention of certain websites and online networks. The “law on bloggers” takes effect on August 1, 2014, creating a new registry especially for citizen-media outlets with daily audiences bigger than three thousand people. Bloggers added to this registry face a series of new regulations (against obscene language, libel, and so on), increasing their vulnerability to criminal prosecution.

Hard time for retweets

[The full text in Russian. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Signed on June 28, 2014. This law allows the government to hand down five-year prison sentences to people who re-disseminate extremist materials online. The “law against retweets” codifies an existing police practice, but making the policy official could increase the number of such prosecutions in the future.

A digital Gulag

[The full text in Russian. RuNet Echo’s commentary in English.]

Passed by the Duma on July 4, 2014. This legislation still awaits the Senate’s approval and Putin’s signature. The law, if passed, will require all websites that store user data about Russian citizens to house that data on servers located inside Russia. According to the legislation’s logic, websites will be barred from storing Russian users’ personal data anywhere outside of Russia (though the law’s actual text is somewhat vague on this point, perhaps because of jurisdictional limitations on what Russia can mandate outside its borders). The law applies to a wide variety of websites, ranging from e-booking services to Facebook, affecting any website or online service operating on the concept of “users.”

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