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Russian State Regulation - and Censorship - of the Internet Begins in Earnest

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, April 1 2013

Though around 50 percent of the population remains offline, Russian users make up the largest Internet presence in Europe.  There were 67 Russians people online last April, and projections have that number rising to over 90 million by this year.  Yet as the Russian web has grown, so have attempts to rein it in.  Now Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin has made a first major step towards centralized state control of the Internet, by acting on new legislation that will allow the government to selectively censor online content. 

The law specifically pertains to content that could be deemed harmful to children.  While it was ratified in November, the Russian government did not begin heavily enforcing the new regulations until this past month.  Pornography has been a frequent target, as has social media content that promotes self-harm and suicide.

For proponents of Internet openness, this sets a risky precedent that could pave the way to expanded online censorship.  Last summer, Putin told UN officials that he intended to greatly expand the state’s hand in Internet governance.  This conviction was driven home by Russian representatives at the International Telecommunications Union’s World Conference in December, who spearheaded a draft bill along with China, the UAE, Algeria, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia to give member states greater control over online activity and discourse.

The draft was ultimately thrown out by the ITU, under pressure from the United States and other countries.  Yet the enforcement of this new domestic law shows that Russia is moving forward with online censorship and governance. Internet companies Facebook, Twitter, and Google have already complied with orders to remove content, though YouTube has pushed back.

Aleksey Mitrofanov, a Russian MP who heads the government’s committee on information technology, told reporters in Moscow last week that, "an era of absolutely free Internet in Russia has ended."

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