The Dallas Morning News

Internet bill expands government control

As legislatio­n advances, critics bemoan new era of state censorship

- By JAMES ELLINGWORT­H

MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that would expand government control over the internet and whose opponents fear heralds a new era of widespread censorship.

The bill would install equipment to route Russian internet traffic through servers in the country. That would increase the power of state agencies to control informatio­n and block messaging applicatio­ns, while users would find it harder to circumvent government restrictio­ns.

The bill’s backers say it’s a defense measure in case Russia is cut off from the internet by the United States or other hostile powers.

Nikolai Zemtsov, a lawmaker who backed the bill, told The Associated Press that Russia could cooperate with exsoviet countries on a “Runet” where news from critical Western media was restricted.

“It could be that in our limited, sovereign internet we will only be stronger,” he said.

But the move has caused concern in a society that has become used to an open internet. Several thousand people took to Moscow’s streets in protest last month.

Sergei Boiko, a libertaria­n activist who helped organize the protests, said there could be further demonstrat­ions.

“The aim is to establish the authoritie­s’ monopoly on informatio­n in the country,” he told the AP. “It’s now no longer the Soviet times when it was enough to control the mass media, the telegraph and printing presses. That was enough. Now they need to control a broader environmen­t, and they need to control the internet.”

Boiko predicted internet speeds in Russia would slow dramatical­ly due to the installati­on of equipment required by the bill, and said it could “pickle” Russia’s fastdevelo­ping tech sector.

“The authoritie­s are prepared to accept the degradatio­n of the internet in Russia for the sake of controllin­g it,” he said.

The bill passed by 32215 in a second reading in the lower house of parliament.

The second reading is when amendments are finalized and is usually the most important. The bill must pass a third reading and the upper house before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Since last year, Russian authoritie­s have been trying to block the messaging app Telegram, which has refused to hand over users’ encrypted messages in defiance of a court order.

Russia already requires certain personal informatio­n about Russian citizens to be stored on servers in the country. That measure led to the social network Linkedin being blocked in 2016.

By moving to exert more control of the internet, which is not overseen by a central authority, the Russian government is taking a page from China’s playbook.

China subjects its 700 million internet users to extensive monitoring and tight controls. Beijing has a system of automated filters — known as the “Great Firewall” — to block political content as well as sites related to gambling and pornograph­y. Chinese users are blocked from using Western internet sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

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