Russia supports bill to isolate the Internet, promote censorship

It is feared the bill will give the country its own version of China’s Great Firewall.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Russia's lower chamber of parliament has backed a bill which privacy advocates fear could lead to the creation of a censorship system similar to China's Great Firewall.

The State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, has advocated the bill overwhelmingly, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The new regulations, if accepted by the upper chamber -- which belongs to the Federal Assembly -- and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to route Russian Internet traffic locally through the country.

This, in turn, would give Russian authorities the opportunity to use equipment and software to establish communication eavesdropping, such as Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) forms of attack, as well as block and censor global content that Russia does not want its citizens to be able to access.

ISPs would have to provide equipment to exchange points approved by Russia's telecoms watchdog, Roskomnazor. A Domain Name System (DNS) would also be prepared to support the localization of content. 

To make the new laws easier to swallow, the Russian government intends to foot the bill.

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Advocates of the bill claim this would be a protective measure only to protect the Internet in the country should a hostile entity cut off access -- as well as a means to insulate Russian traffic from potential cyberattacks by foreign entities by removing traffic rerouting outside of local systems.

However, others believe that a top-level control mechanism of this power would give Russian lawmakers the overarching authority to control the web in the country, as well as monitor its citizens' online habits.

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The proposed law is not being touted as a censorship tool, but this form of control certainly draws parallels against China's famous censorship barrier. The Great Firewall, which has been upgraded over the years, blocks out and blacklists anything Chinese officials deem unsuitable.

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Otherwise known as the "Golden Shield," the blockage has been used to restrict access to content and websites which may contain criticisms of the Chinese state such as Western media, alongside social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services able to circumvent the block.

The latest decision to back the Russian bill, which was originally proposed in December 2018, builds upon Russia's planned test to cut off Internet access temporarily this year to gather data and intelligence on the impact.

Russian citizens have protested, leading to a number of arrests. 

See also: Russia: No, we don't want to curb online freedoms - we want to protect Internet

"We cannot support their misunderstanding and deception that the passed bills are somehow aimed at limiting Internet freedom," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Peskov said last month. "On the contrary, they are designed to ensure [the] Internet's viability amid potential aggressive steps in cyberspace against our country."

Russia previously banned the use of VPNs in the country, a move also undertaken by China. In addition, Russian officials attempted to block the Telegram encrypted messaging application in 2018, which ultimately proved to be unsuccessful as the vendor was able to circumvent the country's efforts. 

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