Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill that will create a ‘sovereign internet’ in a bid to solidify the government’s control of online activities.
The law will force internet service providers to filter all traffic through dedicated portals that will be policed by Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s online censorship arm.
It is not yet clear how the disconnection system will work, although the Kremlin will allegedly force service providers to test it later this year
It also sets in motion plans for the creation of a Russia-only domain name system that is separate from the rest of the global internet.
The government has claimed this will provide a back-up option in case Russia’s internet becomes disconnected from the world wide web, but critics have raised concerns that the function could be exploited to block access to outside media and further clamp down on freedom of speech in the country.
A document providing details of the new law was published on May 1 on the government’s website. It is expected to come into force on November 1.
It is not yet clear how the disconnection system will work, although the Kremlin will allegedly force service providers to test it later this year.
According to The Moscow Times, Russia reportedly carried out clandestine trials in 2014 to evaluate whether it was possible to disconnect its internet from the world wide web. The tests allegedly found that Russia’s internet could be isolated, but only for a period of around 30 minutes at a time. It is not clear whether the technology has been updated to allow the internet to be cut off for longer periods.
Russia’s internet users already face significant restrictions on their online access, with many sites blocked and the use of virtual private networks banned. Freedom House, an internet freedom advocacy platform, classified Russia’s online environment as “not free” in its 2018 report, citing government efforts to block the messaging app Telegram and legislative censorship proposals as evidence.
The new controls, if successfully implemented, will further consolidate the Kremlin’s hold over Russia’s online ecosystem, making it even more challenging for Russian citizens to express themselves freely or gain access to impartial information. They will also make operations significantly more challenging both for Russian businesses, as their potential customer base will be severely restricted, and international firms that sell to the Russian market.