Russia is quietly stepping up its Internet censorship machine

First, Russia aims to control its Internet infrastructure by owning Internet cables that criss-cross its territory and connect it to the rest of the world. Second, the country puts “pressure” on websites and internet companies like the tech giant Yandex And Alternative to Facebook VKontakte censor content. Third, says Shakirov, is the media repression of him:ban independent media organizations and adopting the aforementioned law on “foreign agents”. This is followed by forcing people to self-censor what they say online and limiting protest.

Finally, says Shakirov, there is “restricting access to information”: blocking websites. The legal ability to block websites was implemented through the adoption of the Sovereign Law on the Internet of Russia in 2016 and since then Russia has been expand its technical capabilities to block sites. “Now the possibilities for restricting access are developing by leaps and bounds,” says Shakirov.

Sovereign law on the Internet helps develop the idea of ​​\u200b\u200bRuNet – a Russian Internet that can be disconnected from the rest of the world. Since the war against Ukraine began in late February, more than 2,384 sites have been blocked inside Russia, according to an analysis by Top 10 VPNs. These range from independent Russian news websites and Ukrainian domains to Big Tech and foreign news sites.

“The Russian government is continually trying to have more control over what content people can access,” says Grant Baker, a research associate of technology and democracy at the nonprofit Freedom House. (Roskomnadzor, the country’s media and communications regulator, did not respond to a request from WIRED for comment.) detention of more than 16,000 peaceful protesters and the increased use of facial recognition.

But building a surveillance empire isn’t easy. China is widely regarded as the most restrictive online nation in the world, with its own Great firewall website blocking that go beyond his political vision. This “sovereign” Chinese model of the Internet has taken years to flourish, even with the The creator of the Chinese firewall reportedly got around it using a VPN.

As Russia has aimed to emulate this Chinese model to some extent, it has faltered. When officials tried to block messaging app Telegram in 2018, they failed miserably And he surrendered two years later. Building Russia’s vision of the RuNet has faced numerous delays. However, many of Russia’s most recent political announcements aren’t designed for the short term: Internet control is a long-term project. Some of the measures may not exist at all.

“It is still difficult to assess the impact of all these measures in detail, given the often blurred distinction between a clear political signal and the Kremlin’s ambition and its effective translation into concrete projects and changes,” says Julien Nocetti, senior associate fellow at the French Institute of International Relations, studying the Internet in Russia.

For example, several Russian-language app stores have appeared in recent months, but many of them have few apps available for download. According to the independent newspaper Moscow weatherone of the top app store contenders, RuStore, has fewer than 1,000 apps available for download.

Other sovereign Internet efforts have also failed. RuTube, The Russian equivalent of YouTube, failed to gain popularity despite officials pushing its use. Meanwhile, the website of Rossgrama potential alternative to Instagram that hasn’t launched yet, displays a message saying it’s “under development” and warns people not to download versions of the app they might find online as they “come from scammers.”

While many of Russia’s internet sovereign measures have struggled to get off the ground, its ability to block websites has improved since then. first tried limiting Twitter in March 2021. And other nations are watching. “Countries are learning from each other various Internet regulatory practices,” says Shakirov. “Russia has decided to create a Chinese version of its Internet, and now other countries in the post-Soviet space, Africa or Latin America can follow suit.”

Lokot says that as more nations try to regulate the internet and do so with their national security in mind, the internet itself is put at risk. “As the conversation moves from ‘the Internet as a public good’ to ‘the Internet and Internet access as a national security issue,’ the questions change,” says Lokot. “We are potentially going to see some really problematic choices made by states, and not just authoritarian states, but democratic states as well.”