25 April 2012
The government is seeking to share responsibility for limiting freedom of the Internet in Russia with intermediaries: service providers, registrars, non-profits, schools and libraries.
According to a new report published by Agora Human Rights Association on 25 April, The Russian Internet – at the Service of the State, government officials are being obliged to find new approaches to controlling the Internet as a result of major reputational damage caused by using traditional direct means of control.
The human rights defenders point out that the authorities have not given up bringing criminal prosecutions against Internet users, and monitoring activities on the net that are not sanctioned by the government. According to the authors of the report, a correspondent for Open Information Agency says, at the same time an increasing number of instances of restrictions on freedom of the Internet are not linked with direct administrative measures by government agencies and officials. They take the form of civil law suits and the actions of ‘intermediaries’, behind whose backs the presence of government officials can always be felt.
“The forms of limitation are various and depend on what government structure is working jointly wtih the intermediary: the Ministry of Communications through ‘self-regulating organizations’, the Federal Agency for Financial Monitoring through banks, or law enforcement agencies through Internet providers, registrars and the administrators of social networks,” says the report by Agora Human Rights Association. “Such collaboration does not always take place voluntarily and consciously. It can happen that it is enough to create the conditions under which an intermediary will be obliged to act in a specific way.”
In particular, the report analyzes the initiative by the League of Internet Security to create ‘blacklists’ of websites, according to which the passing of amendments to federal legislation would practically legalize the blocking of websites without a court decision. The authors of the report also believe there is a threat to freedom of expression on the Internet through the actions of administrators of social networks, in particular VKontakte and Moi Mir.
“With the growth in the number of Internet users, the number of prosecutions related to publications on social networks has also grown,” the authors of the report, legal experts Pavel Chikov and Damir Gainutdinov, point out. “Of all 38 prosecutions related to the use of the Internet and recorded by Agora in 2011, 32 prosecutions were of users of VKontakte, only one prosecution was of a user of the Odnoklassniki network, and none were found related to publications on Facebook or Google+. Such a distribution, even taking into account the relative numbers of users, could indicate that there is active collaboration between the administrators of VKontakte and law enforcement agencies.
The report also examines the issues of relationships between government agencies and registrars of domain names, in particular the company RU-CENTER, and the problem of official oversight of payments as a result of new recommendations by the Federal Agency for Financial Monitoring to Russian banks.
“In making a purchase over the Internet through a website based abroad, the buyer risks coming under suspicion of financing terrorism and extremism,” the human rights defenders write. “All operations of this nature will be monitored with especial thoroughness, and the client will not even know about it. The users of all possible kinds of electronic commerce services, such as the system ‘Yandex. Money’ which has become a popular means of making donations for civic actions, will also come under threat.
The report The Russian Internet – at the Service of the State can be read here.