Krem­lin mea­sure aims for state control of in­ter­net

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Oleg Mat­snev N EW YOR K T I ME S

MOSCOW – Russia took a step to­ward gov­ern­ment control over the in­ter­net on Thurs­day, as law­mak­ers ap­proved a bill that free­dom of in­for­ma­tion ad­vo­cates worry will open the door to sweep­ing cen­sor­ship.

The leg­is­la­tion is de­signed to route web traf­fic through fil­ters con­trolled by Roskom­nad­zor, the state com­mu­ni­ca­tions watch­dog, in­creas­ing its power to control in­for­ma­tion and block mes­sag­ing or other ap­pli­ca­tions. It also pro­vides for Russia to cre­ate its own sys­tem of do­main names that would al­low the in­ter­net to con­tinue op­er­at­ing within the coun­try, even if it were cut off from the global web.

The bill’s goal, ac­cord­ing to its au­thors, is to “en­sure a stable, se­cure and seam­less” in­ter­net.

Ad­vo­cates hailed it as an im­por­tant step to­ward an in­de­pen­dent Rus­sian in­ter­net, not re­liant on traf­fic routed through other coun­tries.

They say that change is more nec­es­sary than ever, given the threat from ter­ror­ism and strin­gent cy­ber­se­cu­rity poli­cies adopted by the United States last year.

The vote Thurs­day in the lower house of par­lia­ment – the sec­ond of three be­fore the bill moves on to the up­per house and then to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin – was 320-15.

The fact that 15 leg­is­la­tors op­posed it, in an as­sem­bly where the Krem­lin con­trols vir­tu­ally all votes, was a sign of some un­ease.

Civil society ad­vo­cates say the leg­is­la­tion al­lows a sin­gle gov­ern­ment agency to ac­cu­mu­late unchecked pow­ers over the in­ter­net.

They fear that Russia, where the in­ter­net has been a last bas­tion of free speech af­ter the gov­ern­ment shut­tered one in­de­pen­dent news or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter another, is now tip­ping to­ward the more tightly con­trolled Chi­nese model.

“This is di­rect cen­sor­ship,” said Filipp Kulin, co-founder of Usher II, an on­line project to mon­i­tor the scope of state-spon­sored web­site block­ing in Russia.

The bill is ex­pected to re­ceive fi­nal ap­proval be­fore the end of the month.

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