The Russian Internet was less free than ever
East-West Digital News reviews the most important developments on the Russian high-tech scene in 2015. Today’s article analyzes the growing restrictions on online freedom in a country where the Internet was once considered to be relatively free.
Year 2015 was marked by expanding restrictions and controversies around several Internet-related issues. In January, the authorities banned several bitcoin websites. However, following an appeal filed by one of the banned sites’ owner, a court ruled that the restriction of access to those bitcoin-related websites was illicit, and state regulator Roskomnadzor had to restore the access.
In November 2015 the government blocked Rutracker.org, the world’s largest Russian-language torrents website. The site is subject to “eternal ban” due to claims on copyright violation filed by several publishing houses.
Russian censors also considered blocking mobile apps and instant messengers. However, many attempts to provide a technological solution to enact Internet censorship have been ineffective. In August Roskomnadzor, the telecom regulator, blocked Wikipedia then recanted, while the Interior Ministry’s efforts to crack Tor failed. Meanwhile, a petition calling on global platforms to refrain from handing over their data to Russia was launched on the change.org website in December, gathering more than 40,000 signatures. In the same month 7,000 users — mobilized by Roskomsvoboda, an organization that advocates free Internet in Russia — filed a lawsuit against the blocking of Rutracker.org, as noted by The Moscow Times.
In its 2015 report, Freedom House assigned Russia the “not free” status, downgrading the country from the “partly free” and “relatively uncensored” statuses of the previous years. “Internet freedom in Russia has deteriorated steadily over the past few years,” the American NGO asserted, “with a steeper decline from 2013 to 2014 following the Euromaidan protests in neighboring Ukraine and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.”
Since then, “the authorities have continued to constrict the environment for freedom of expression and information online by blocking or economically targeting critical media outlets, increasing criminal penalties for online activities, and prosecuting or arresting Internet users for their posts,” Freedom House reported.