By EDRi

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Russland: Gesetz zur Einführung von Internet-Sperrlisten | https://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_10.14_Russland_Gesetz_zur_Einfuehrung_von_Internet-Sperrlisten?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20120718]

At the beginning of July 2012, Duma, the lower house of the Russian
Parliament, approved in third reading a draft law titled “On the
Protection of Children From Information Harmful to Their Health and
Development”, allowing the Russian authorities to create a blacklist
with websites deemed to contain “pornography or extremist ideas, or
promoting suicide or use of drugs.”

The draft law that is meant to amend the present Law of Information
raises concerns of filtering and censorship. The owner of a website
included directly on the blacklist, without any referring to a court,
has to be notified by the hosting provider in 24h and has to delete the
data considered offending. Failing to comply, the site must be shut down
or deleted by the hosting provider who, in case of non-compliance, may,
himself, face cutting off entirely. Those included on the list may
appeal to the court in a three-month period.

“We suspect that the implementation of this blacklist will open the way
to abusive filtering and blocking of online content, with the aim of
censoring the Russian opposition and government critics,” stated
Reporters Without Borders.

The bill originates from the “League for a Safe Internet”, an
initiative meant to limit the registry to URLs (excluding DNS filtering
and IP blocking), and give a non-governmental organization the authority
to manage the list, in order to avoid “excessive state control” as was
explained by the League’s director, Denis Davydov. The Duma decided
however to expand the registry’s reach and the newly created federal
body Roskomnadzor (the Federal Supervision Agency for Information
Technologies and Communications) will probably be in charge of the matter.

The new draft law, compared with China’s “Great Firewall”, raises
concerns also due to the vagueness of its text especially regarding the
Roskomnadzor that would select the targeted sites. The draft also fails
to give a precise definition of “harmful” content and does not clearly
articulate precise reasons for a site to be added to the blacklist,
which may obviously lead to over-blocking and abuses.

The bill specifies what kind of content can lead to introducing a
website on the blacklist without court decision: “…child pornography,
as well as information containing propaganda about the use of narcotics,
psychotropic drugs, and their precursors, and information compelling
children to commit acts that threaten their lives and/or health,
including self-harm and suicide…” Journalist Andrei Babitskii argues
that “information compelling children to commit acts that threaten their
lives” is an intentionally vague expression that may lead to the
inclusion on the list of websites related to any dangerous recreational
activities, such as extreme sports.

The bill also specifies, in a very vague and imprecise manner, what
content needs a court oversight: “Other information not legally
disseminated in the Russian Federation on the basis of a court decision
recognizing the illegality of the disseminated information.”

The Presidential Council on Human Rights made a statement on 3 July
giving five precise reasons to reject the bill: the fact that the
inclusion of whole domains on the registry (and not only URLs to the
deemed illegal materials) may include law-abiding websites, that the
bill imposes what is effectively “collective punishment” against
web-operators and providers, that the filtering will slow down the
entire RuNet and damage e-commerce and online innovation; that the
expanded monitoring will affect individual privacy and that very high
costs will be triggered for the acquisition of the blocking and
filtration equipment necessary to enforce the law’s requirements.

In response to the Presidential Council on Human Rights concerns,
Davydov offered a hypocritical explanation: “…if every parent is
independently entitled to set limits on Internet access for their own
children to protect them from harmful content, then the government, out
of concern for its citizens, is entitled and indeed must restrict
(access to) illegal content…”

A coalition of independent Russian journalists has launched an online
petition for the withdrawal of this bill. Also, in protest against the
draft law, Wikipedia’s Russian-language site (ru.wikipedia.org)
suspended its operations on 10 July. A bar appeared across Wikipedia
logo on the home page and the words: “Imagine a world without free
knowledge.”

The bill is now to pass through the upper house and ratified by
President Vladimir Putin before coming into effect.

If anything, current discussions being led by the European Commission
are even less transparent. In the absence of a legal basis – in the
absence of the European Commission even having an agreed policy on the
subject – a “self-regulation” dialogue to “make the Internet a safer
Internet for kids” is being run by the Commission including proposals
for upload filters, download filters and little or no attempt to explain
how these restrictions are considered to be in line with the European
Charter and European Convention on Human Rights. Given this approach
from the EU, it is unsurprising that Russia has chosen child protection
as a tool for the introduction of Internet repression.

Freedom of information threatened by website blacklisting and
recriminalization of defamation (13.07.2012)
http://en.rsf.org/russia-freedom-of-information-threatened-13-07-2012,43019.html

Russia: A Great Firewall to Censor the RuNet? (10.07.2012)
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/07/10/russia-a-great-firewall-to-censor-the-runet/

EDRi-gram: The rise of the European upload filter (20.06.2012)
http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number10.12/the-rise-of-the-european-upload-filter