Internet censorship in Russia: towards China via Oz

The Duma has passed the first reading of a bill that would allow for nationwide filtering of blacklisted sites. The black list would be maintained by a not-for-profit organization and include sites with underage pornography, “extremism,” and – oddly – pro-suicide propaganda aimed at children.

In addition, that not-for-profit watchdog would also maintain an ever-changing list of “18+”, “16+”, “14+” and such sites. Public access providers would have to block sites from that second list if they allow underage users.

Now, this all wouldn’t be too bad if implemented in a country with a vigorous and influential pro-free speech movement. Recall that in Australia, the infamous nationwide filter first conceived in the 1990s, has caused unending outrage. Although eventually implemented, it continues to be an embarrassment to many Australians but, fortunately enough, can be bypassed with relatively little effort – unlike the obnoxious and near-impossible to circumvent Chinese net wall.

But this being Russia, the potential for abuse is enormous. “Extremist” is a universal label attachable to anything in the world, even The Reader’s Digest — all it takes is a ruling from a provincial Russian court. In fact, a court in the Tomsk Region (in the eastern part of Western Siberia) tried to ban the Bhagavad Gita last year as “extremist.” That attempt caused a veritable uproar in India, where nationalists in the parliament threatened a trade boycott of Russia.

The same applies to underage porn – since Kremlin keeps a host of paid hackers, one of them can upload some illegal stuff to Facebook or some such, make a few screenshots before the service blocks him and takes down the page, and send the screenshots to the police.

Oh, and the wonderful not-for-profit maintainer of the black lists – I’m going to talk about them in the next post.

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