Russian Parliament Reinforces its Ability to Censor the Internet

Russia is moving towards the construction of a digital iron curtain. In order to face the cyber threats and in response to the cybersecurity strategy of the United States, the Russian Parliament has given its approval on Tuesday to the creation of a sovereign Internet.

The controversial project supposes not only to erect a domestic Network that can work of independent way; it will also allow the Russian authorities to filter external information to that network and block the content it deems undesirable or dangerous. The plan is to create the infrastructure to deploy the digital walls in the event of a cyber attack. And unplug from the global Internet to stay within a Russian ecosystem. If other countries try to isolate it, Russia will isolate itself first, they say.

The law to establish RuNet, as they have called the Russian sovereign Internet, has alarmed civil rights organizations, which argue that behind the argument of preventing piracy or digital attacks lies the intention to strengthen control of the network. limit the freedoms in cyberspace in this country of more than 144 million inhabitants, and in which 76% of the population has access to the Internet.

“The whole package of measures involves the creation of a global Russian firewall of censorship, it is a threat to users,” says Artion Kozluk, director of the center for freedom on the Roskomsvoboda Network. The lawyer and activist compare the new law with the one known as Chinese cybermuralla, with which the Government of the Asian giant controls the Network and blocks access to hundreds of websites and applications, such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

According to the new Russian law, which will enter into force on November 1 although progressively with different technical steps – telecommunications companies will have to implement “technical means” to redirect all Russian Internet traffic through exchange points that will manage or approve the Russian telecommunications agency, Roskomnazor. This agency will inspect traffic and may block prohibited content, as provided by law. I would have control over the information.

Russia already blocks messaging applications such as Telegram, the professional LinkedIn social network or the DailyMotion video channel. Although Telegram has circumvented the ban through a technical maneuver and is still available. The companies responsible for these websites refused to store the information of their users in Russia for fear that the Administration would require such information, for example, to pursue opponents.

The Russian administration has now threatened to do the same to Facebook or Twitter, although for the moment it has imposed only minimal economic sanctions. The bill passed on Tuesday adds to other measures of the same current few weeks ago came into force the law that allows to fine or block digital media that disseminate “false news”.

“This is a pretty serious weapon. Although I hope that, like the nuclear weapons that several countries have, [the law] will be inactive. And its existence will encourage all Russian companies, including those in non-Russian jurisdiction, to comply with the laws of Russia, “said Alexander Zharov, head of the Roskomnadzor.

There are many technical doubts about how the ambitious project will be implemented. The law passed on Tuesday by a large majority – 307 parliamentarians in favor and 68 against – now has only the Federal Council procedure and the signature of President Vladimir Putin.

But the rule has had the backing of the Kremlin. Named by NATO, the United States and its Western allies as responsible for powerful and diverse cyber attacks, Russia has decided to go on the offensive with this new geostrategic program. The bill focuses on seeking to address the “aggressive nature” of the US cybersecurity strategy.

A year ago, Washington hit Moscow with a package of sanctions for its participation in the manufacture and dissemination of fake news during the 2016 election campaign that gave the victory to Donald Trump, and for what it considered an orchestrated series of cyber attacks against sectors key to the economy.

The United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ukraine have been warning for years that Russia has attacked state agencies, critical infrastructures, companies and individuals. And they accuse the Kremlin of using hackers to infect millions of computers around the world in preparation for what they have defined as “a future offensive.”

The Russian sovereign Internet project establishes that the Eurasian country will build its own version of the network address system (known as DNS) so that RuNet can operate if access to servers outside of Russia is cut off. Thus, it could operate without problems autonomously.

The Kremlin tries at all costs to maintain the exchange of data between Internet users in Russia within its borders. A point criticized by civil rights organizations, which warn that critical users can become vulnerable. But the Russian Administration aims to reduce the amount of traffic routed through external servers from the current 50% to 10% by 2024.

The creation and commissioning of RuNet will not be cheap. It will cost around 430 million euros, which will come from an additional item of the federal security program. Of these funds, some 288 million will go to pay for new technological systems that guarantee the security of the new Russian network.

This high cost of the project, backed by the Kremlin, has aroused the reluctance of the Court of Auditors and the criticism of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Employers. They also warn that the plan is too complex and that the quality of the Internet connection could be affected.

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