Kremlin measure aims for state control of internet
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.