How Russia Adopts Its Laws to Support Networked Authoritarianism · Global Voices

Photo by Amiya Nagarajan

In the Freedom of the Network rankings, the Russian Federation is one of the worst offenders, thanks to a well-documented history of information control aimed at restricting freedom of expression on the net. The authorities’ quest to control the Russian Internet began in earnest in 2012. At the time, mass demonstrations protesting disputed Russian elections and times of tension around the world drew the attention of those in power to the growing role of the Internet and social media in political and civilian life. In the decade since, the Russian government and Russian decision-makers have built an extensive web of amendments and new laws to regulate civic activism and discourse, restrict independent media work, and bring social media platforms and digital companies under control.

Organizing content and discourse

Network authoritarianism remains Russia’s main method of Internet governance. Initially, a number of recent legislative decisions attempt to normalize state censorship in the digital space, targeting the media, NGOs as well as individuals. Under that legislation, the 2014 law called the “Bloggers Law”, which requires well-known bloggers, with more than 3,000 views per day, to register with the state and disclose their personal information, impose precautions to prevent anonymous use of public WiFi networks. restrict and prohibit the sale. of prepaid cell phone cards previously for customers without their international IDs.

The first restrictive law was passed in 2012, which gave Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnados and other government agencies unprecedented power to block. Federal Law No. 139-FZ gives powers to create a “blacklist” register of sites suspected of illegal or other offensive content that Russian ISPs should block.

He expanded into subsequent legislation that focused discourse on the net and became more specific. According to the Information Act of 2016, Information Technology and Information Protection No. N149-FZ, and related amendments to Yarovaya against extremists, prohibit extremist or terrorist content, while Act of December 2020 No. N513-FZ new administrative responsibility for “criminal public discourse” and free speech on the net Yarovaya’s amendments also simplify the procedure for out-of-court requests for user information.

Secure internet management

Secondly, it presented a new set of legal precautions as necessary to ensure Russia’s national security. The so-called “Yarovaya law”, which was introduced in the summer of 2016 and came into force in 2018, is a set of “anti-extremism” amendments that include precautionary measures against dissidents, such as increasing the ruling on the use of “extremist “language on the network, instructing Internet companies to share encryption keys with the state and decrypt users’ communications. This requires platforms to store user data (content) for six months and metadata for up to three years.

According to the amendments to the Information Act, Information Technology and Information Protection No. N149-FZ as part of the Yarovaya laws against extremism, is required of companies classified as “information dissemination regulator” (i.e. most internet services) to join the state. register and share user data with law enforcement.

Blame foreign agents

Third, the first law requiring civil society organizations and recipients of foreign funding to register with the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents” was passed in 2014. He then expanded the scope of legislation and the “foreign agent” formula: initially to include the media in 2017, and then in 2019 to include individuals. This difficult decision to use the “foreign agent” formula around the 2021 parliamentary elections was exacerbated when election observers, independent media, human rights NGOs and opposition activists were surprised by this formula. This label requires that organizations or individuals “engaged in political activities” and considered to be “receiving foreign aid” either register with the state or face fines, internet bans, or a possible jail sentence. They are required to report periodically on their activities and to indicate their status as a foreign agent on any material or content they publish, including media publications.

Sovereign Internet

Since 2019, Russian regulators and decision-makers have been pursuing the idea of ​​”sovereignty over the Internet”. This is made possible by “sovereign internet” legislation that came into force in 2019, which effectively requires all ISPs to install a tool (Deep Packet Inspection), referred to by state regulator Roskomnadzor as a “technical way to counter threats” work.” The law also provides the central state administration with deep packet inspection tools to filter network traffic and block or restrict certain services or protocols. Behind the guise of protecting the state from external adversaries and maintaining the stability and security of the Russian Internet, the law of “sovereignty” aims to stop those he considers to be internal threats and to facilitate state control. .

Hold platforms hostage

Russian decision-makers have increasingly targeted platforms as the main sources of information and decision-making on the web. The Data Localization Act, effective 2016, requires companies to store Russian users’ data on servers in Russia. While some companies (Viber and Booking.com) met these requirements, others (Facebook and Twitter) resisted and faced increasing fines.

On February 1, 2022, a new Act No. 530-FZ came into force which formally defines “social media platforms” and instructs all social media platforms with 500,000 daily visitors, operating in Russia, to remove content that is illegal or prohibited by effective. Russian law (From child pornography and content that promotes suicide or drug or alcohol use to “calls for mass riots” and content that shows “disrespect or provocation of government or government officials”). Similar platforms are added to a new international social media registry and required to regulate their content without state instructions or court orders. The platforms have faced large fines in the past, with the state regulator arguing that they do not block or remove illegal content well enough. The “hostages” law is another legal precaution targeting new technology giants that require them to set up an independent unit in Russia. Failure to open a local office can result in fines ranging from a ban on promotion to a total ban from the state.

alternative reality creation

Immediately after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia’s decision-makers immediately passed a strict law criminalizing any media coverage or social media posts about the war derived from the state’s plans. So far, the law has empowered Roskomnadzor to ban Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google News, and has caused a mass exodus of the rest of independent media and journalists fearing criminal prosecution.

The sheer amount of legal precautions added to Russia’s record of internet governance over the past decade is dishonest: in fact, similar legislation is far from productive because it may limit the network’s despotic state, which stifles freedom of political expression and what remains of freedom. online. Russian.


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You can read more about our coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine here.

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