Russian bill creates blacklist of websites
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Deutsch: Russland: Gesetz zur Einführung von Internet-Sperrlisten
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)
Russia: A Great Firewall to Censor the RuNet? (10.07.2012)
EDRi-gram: The rise of the European upload filter (20.06.2012)