Today, Russian-language Wikipedia, Livejournal, and other prominent RuNet websites have gone dark to protest Bill № 89417-6, which is currently being considered in the Duma. The bill is comprised of amendments that create an Internet blacklist which opponents say poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in Russia. The blackout follows in the footsteps of other similar high-profile protests against Internet censorship bills, including SOPA/PIPA in the United States, and DDL Intercettazioni in Italy.
The Russian State Duma began initial hearings on the bill earlier this week. The legal amendments propose a national digital blacklist of websites with an .ru domain name that contain pornography, host drug advertisements, condone suicide, or include “extremist ideas,” purportedly to protect children. Criticism of the bill bears some striking similarities to criticism of other proposed Internet blacklists. Opponents have expressed concern over lack of effectiveness, the burden on Internet intermediaries, and lack of oversight and accountability that leaves the blacklist open to abuse.
The list of banned content is non-exhaustive; according to the draft document that was submitted last month on June 7, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, IT and Mass Media will have the power to ban more items, and will charge a non-profit organization with monitoring compliance. If it finds illegal content on a website, the agency will give the site owner 24 hours to remove it. Otherwise the site will be entered onto the blacklist, or--in some cases--face a court injunction.
Multiple branches of the Russian government remain in conflict over the draft law. All four party factions in the State Duma support the bill, but Russia’s presidential Human Rights Council (HRC) harshly condemned it in a statement on Tuesday July 3. The HRC attacked the current version of the bill as an ineffective solution to “dirty” content because it does not prevent users from using non-Russian domain names and IP addresses. HRC also observed that the bill is a giant step towards a real, legal censorship regime for Russian Internet infrastructure, which would “negatively affect its speed, stability and security.” HRC has proposed that the bill should be withdrawn from debate, and instead be submitted for public discussion.
Russia’s Minister of Communications and Mass Media, Nikolai Nikiforov, also stated in an interview that his agency does not appreciate the way the current version of the bill is being fast-tracked through the Duma in spite of considerable criticism. It is relatively easy for websites to evade the content filtration that the bill attempts to establish, so intermediary Internet service providers and web hosts would end up being responsible for keeping users from accessing blacklisted content. Marina Junich, Government Relations Director of Google Russia, explained that the way the bill would be implemented in the short-term would make it standard practice for ISPs to block the entirely of websites such as Youtube when the local courts ban a single “extremist” video.
“Extremist” Internet content is already censored on the RuNet. The Justice Ministry currently runs a blacklist comprised of 1,200 websites, offline publications, and leaflets. EFF stands in solidarity with the Russian-language Wikipedia, Livejournal, and other websites in support of freedom of expression on the RuNet. EFF also urges critical parties within the Russian government to continue fighting the passage of the amendments.