Russian Censorship Law Bans VPNs
Bernard Hastings | Last Updated:
President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that will come into effect November 1st – which effectively outlaws technology like VPNs and proxy servers that allow users to access banned websites.
This law has been created under the guise of “curbing extremist content”, but critics say that Russia is simply looking to censor the web – and that the country may be attempting to emulate the methods of “Great Firewall” censorship used in China.
This move is not unprecedented. In early 2017, large anti-government protests broke out in Moscow, as Aleksei Navalny, a top Putin critic, was arrested. In addition to police action, the Putin government responded by blocking access to websites that supposedly prompted the demonstrations.
This latest bill to ban VPNs and proxy servers is far from the first such bill – and as time goes on, internet censorship in Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Another bill which will have a dramatic effect on freedom of speech will come into effect on January 1, 2018.
This bill requires that the users of chat applications identify themselves with their full phone numbers. It’s important to note that some chat apps, such as Facebook Messenger, do already ask users to do so in order to make their experience better – but never before has this been mandatory.
This bill would strip away any chance of anonymity that a user of a messaging service might have, and make it easy for the government to identify any internet user who spreads “illicit” or “extremist” material – however that may be defined by the Russian government.
This bill also demands that the operators of chat services curb user access in case they spread or share illicit material – making its true purpose quite clear.
Together, these two bills are going to make it harder for the Russian people to criticize Putin. This is especially notable due to the fact that Russia is holding a presidential election in March of next year.
Banning VPNs and proxies – as well as reducing internet anonymity – could make it harder for voters to read criticisms of Putin’s government, and also minimize the chances that direct action such as protests would occur before the election.
The conclusion is clear – at the time during which free speech should be encouraged, Russian officials are taking every step they can to censor the internet, and using the guise of “counter-extremism”, to do so.