Russian government censors recently pressured tech giant Google to remove search engine links to websites that are on a list of categories prohibited by the state. This information was leaked to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti by an insider employee at Google.
Russia is continuing its clamp-down on citizen online freedoms. “Over the past five years, Russia has introduced tougher internet laws that require search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country,” according to Reuters.
The Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media – Roskomnadzor – is the federal executive organization responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications. The state agency’s long arm extends over electronic media, mass communications, information technology, and telecommunications.
Roskomnadzor maintains the official list of web content that is unfit for public viewing. In the government, register are sites “containing calls for extremism, suicide propaganda and pornography advertising drugs, gambling without a license, as well as pirated websites, access to which is restricted in Russia forever.”
The Russian government has targeted websites that promote child porn, drug use, and suicide for permanent removal from cyberspace. What you can’t read won’t hurt you.
Roskomnadzor has been forcing search engine operators to remove links to off-limit websites from lists of search results since 2017. A new law banned the use of VPNs (virtual private networks), internet proxy services that help online users access websites that have been blocked by the government and surf the web anonymously.
Under the 2017 amendments, search engine providers must also establish an ongoing connection to the state registry in order to receive up-to-date information about newly-restricted site links.
Google has resisted those enforcement efforts – until now. The insider internet employee said that Google only began removing links in earnest a few weeks ago and, as of the first week of February 2019, had purged about 70 percent of the 160,000 censored web addresses (URLs).
Nor did Google join the registry to receive up-to-date censorship information. Roskomnadzor now plans to provide a “fresh list of prohibited resources every day.”
Roskomnadzor issued Google an official warning during the summer of 2018 about the need to comply with Russian law. Google’s failure to do so spurred the Russian government to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages for non-compliance.
On December 11, 2018, Russia fined Google a modest 500,000 roubles ($7,530) for failing to comply with the legal requirement to remove certain entries from its search results. Google paid up with no dispute.
In early 2019, Roskomnadzor repeated its warning to Google: censor web links or face another fine and a possible nation-wide ban. The Russian mass media controller said it would introduce new amendments to allow the legal “eviction” of search engine platforms that fail to follow their strict rules.
Google’s official position on the Russian censorship initiative was vanilla-flavored:
“We’re committed to enabling access to information for the benefit of our users in Russia and around the world.”
On February 7, 2019, the Russians claimed they were happy to have convinced Google to filter prohibited online content:
“We have established a constructive dialogue with Google. Currently, this dialogue suits us,” said Vadim Ampelonsky for Roskimnadzor.
Coming up: in April 2019, the Russian government plans to test its cybersecurity system’s ability to ward off foreign attacks by disconnecting briefly all user internet access within the country.
The planned experiment involves major internet service providers (ISPs) under the control of Russian authorities who are crafting another new internet law called the Digital Economy National Program.
The first draft of the law introduced in the Russian Parliament in December 2018 required that “Russian internet providers should ensure the independence of the Russian internet space (Runet) in the case of foreign aggression to disconnect the country from the rest of the internet.”
Russian ISPs will accomplish that task by building the technical capability to direct “all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved or managed by Roskomnazor” so the watchdog agency can sniff the data before approving it for public consumption.
Prohibited content will be blocked. More significantly, all Russian internet traffic must be routed to servers within the country and never “re-routed uselessly through servers abroad, where it could be intercepted.”
The Spring 2019 test disconnection is intended to provide Russian ISPs with data about how their networks react under the new restrictive rules. By 2020, Russian authorities plan to keep 95 percent of all internet traffic localized.
The enterprising Russians have also replicated the international Domain Name System (DNS) with their own version which will work with Runet during the upcoming national online disconnection test.
The Russian government will pay for all ISP costs to change their infrastructures and install new computer servers to reroute traffic to Roskomnazor’s approved exchange point.
The Russian envision a domestic intranet (internal domestic internet) to rival China’s Great Firewall. The Russians want to inspect, redirect, and censor all online data traffic – and be able to separate their online network from the rest of the world.