Russia’s Controversial “Sovereign Internet Law” Comes into Force

Vladimir Putin

Critics are concerned the new law will be used by the government to silence its detractors. 

On Friday, Russia’s new controversial new sovereign internet law went into force. Dubbed the Iron Curtain online, in theory the law gives the government significantly more control over the country’s internet infrastructure.

The law provides officials with a wide range of powers to restrict traffic on the Russian web. Under the new legislation, the Kremlin could switch off connections within Russia or completely to the worldwide web in an “emergency”. Precisely what constitutes a threat, and what actions should be taken, will be for the government to decide.

A spokesman for the Kremlin said the law, which was approved in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin, will improve Russia’s cybersecurity and that users would not notice any difference.

Experts say it is unclear how the law will be enforced or how effective it will be given the tech challenges and high costs. Critics have warned that the Iron Curtain could see the Kremlin try to create a firewall similar to the one in China.

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Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets earlier this year to protest the new law, while human rights advocates have warned it threatens free speech and media.

In a blog post, Human Rights Watch wrote: “The ‘sovereign internet’ law purports to provide a legal basis for mass surveillance and allows the government to effectively enforce online existing legislation that undermines freedom of expression and privacy.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the government had no plans to isolate internet users: “No-one is suggesting cutting the internet.”

The law requires internet service providers to install network equipment – known as deep package inspection (DPI) – capable of identifying the source of traffic and filter content. It will allow the country’s telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor to be more effective at blocking sites.

Russia is seeking to reduce its reliance on foreign servers, which it has less control over, by routing its web traffic and data through state controlled points. Those who support the law say it will protect the system from foreign attacks.

To help achieve this goal, Russia is also working on developing its own net address book, which will enable it to operate autonomously, however, this will not take effect until 2021.



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