Saturday, 3 May 2014

Putin Targets Internet Freedom, Highlights Social Media Danger to Russia

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a page from other world leaders who have recently targeted the Internet as a political punching bag on the heels of new restrictions passed by the Russian parliament.  The law requires social media websites to maintain servers within Russia and save information about its users.  In his widely-publicized remarks, Putin pointed to the potential harm of Internet companies like Yandex (Russia's top search engine) and others who do not exhibit faithfulness to Russian security and business interests.  Among his most pointed claims, Putin suggested that Russia must go to great lengths to protect itself on the Internet since, as he put it, the Internet was originally a "CIA project" that is "still developing as such."

Russia's technology sector and other pro-democracy voices are rightfully speaking out in anger about the new efforts to limit internet freedom.  The restrictions, building on the fact that pro-Putin businessmen now control Russia's largest social media platform Vkontakte, suggest that Putin's recent efforts to build nationalistic support for the Kremlin's political efforts will expand more formally into the cyber sector.

The Wall Street Journal detailed just how far these laws would reach:
The three bills impose strict control over disseminating information on the Internet and online payments, and toughen punishment for terrorism and extremism. The one that sparked the most concern effectively equates popular bloggers with media outlets, subjecting them to substantially greater regulation and legal liability.

The bill would require bloggers with 3,000 or more page-views a day to reveal their identities, fact-check their content, not disseminate extremist information or information violating privacy of citizens, and abide by the rules of pre-election silence. Human-rights activists say bloggers are ill-equipped to fulfill such demands. Failure to comply would be punished by fines and possibly blocking.

Social-networking sites, blog hosts and other "organizers of disseminating of information on the Internet" may also be affected, as the bill requires them to store data on popular users' activity online for six months for potential use in police and other official investigations. 

Read more about the new laws and how this could impact the internet landscape in Russia and beyond.

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