Russian lawmakers have proposed a draft law that would impose new obligations on the owners of public networks. Such owners with no registered
presence in Russia would be required to set up a local representative office. Other obligations would include identifying users by their mobile phone numbers, deleting fake news, and preventing the posting of materials that promote violence or
pornography, contain strong language, or otherwise breach Russian laws governing content.
Ofcom has today opened seven new investigations into the due impartiality of news and current
affairs programmes on the RT news channel.
The investigations (PDF, 240.5 KB) form part of an Ofcom update, published today, into the licences held by TV Novosti, the company that broadcasts RT.
Until recently, TV Novosti's overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters.
However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
We will announce the outcome of these investigations as soon as possible. In relation to our fit and proper duty, we will consider all relevant new evidence, including the outcome of these investigations and the future conduct of the licensee.
Russia's new war room.
Putin decrees that Russians don't play games.
Maybe it was misunderstood.
The Russian internet censor Roskomnadzor, has blocked 1,882 sites with gambling content in just a week.
The latest statistics were published by Betting Business Russia (BBR), an independent online magazine focused on the gaming and betting industry. The magazine estimates that the censor blocked 806 platforms that represent online casinos,
online lotteries or Internet poker rooms.
A large number of the blocked sites during the past week include mirror sites trying to work around previous block. The most nirrored site, with 298 blocked domains, is Fonbet, the country's largest sportsbook operator.
Despite not offering gambling content, another 172 websites were blocked in the period April 8 to April 14. The magazine explains that these sites publish information on bookmakers, casinos, gambling machines, and sweepstakes.
Earlier in March 2018, the censor blocked 7398 sites with gambling content.
Russia has strict anti-gambling laws that prohibit almost any form of betting or real-money games.
Russia's internet censor Roskomnadzor has blocked an estimated 16 million IP addresses in a massive operation against the banned
Telegram messaging app.
Telegram is widely used by the Russian political establishment, and prominent politicians and officials have openly flouted or criticised the ban. Data from the app showed several Kremlin officials had continued to sign in on Tuesday evening, four
days after a court ordered the service to be blocked.
Backed by Russia's federal security service (FSB) and a court decision, Roskomnadzor has pushed forward, banning subnets, totalling millions of IP addresses, used by Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, two hosting sites that Telegram switched to
over the weekend to help circumvent the ban.
Andrei Soldatov, the co-author of The Red Web, an authoritative account of internet surveillance in Russia, said the campaign showed a no-holds-barred approach unconcerned with political fallout. He said:
They've decided the political costs of blocking Telegram and millions and millions of IP addresses used by Amazon and Google are not that high, Soldatov said. Once you cross the line, you can do anything. I think it means that they could move on
from Telegram to big services like Facebook and Google.
The tactic of effectively blocking all websites using a hosting company has worked in the past and the hosting companies have dropped websites as ordered by repressive politicians.
Two members of veteran Greek extreme metal band Rotting Christ were detained on terrorism charges ahead of show in Georgia last Thursday, after authorities accused them of practising satanism, their record label has said.
According to a statement from Season of Mist, frontman Sakis Tolis was detained alongside his brother, drummer Themis, after being arrested on arrival in Tbilisi on charges allegedly relating to their band name. Sakis explains:
After the regular document check at the border, my brother and I were stopped by the police on our way out from the airport. After some minutes, we were ordered to follow police to another area of the airport under the pretence of further
questioning before entering the country. Instead, we had our passports and mobile phones taken away and were led into a prison cell.
When we demanded to be told the reason for this arrest, we were simply told this information would be 'confidential'. Our lawyers informed us later that we are on a list of unwanted persons [regarded a threat to] national security that branded us
as satanists and therefore suspects of terrorism.
Sakis says the pair were locked in a small and rather dirty cell, and without being permitted any contact to the outside world or legal representation or our embassy for 12 hours, before the promoters of the RedRum event , Sweden's Terror Crew
Promotions and Georgia's Locomotive Promotion, intervened and the band were released without charge.
Due to the hard work of the local promoter, who involved legal experts, journalists, and activists in Georgia, we were finally released, he explains. We are extremely grateful to everybody involved in this process. In the end, we were even able to
perform our show and it turned out to be a fantastic night.
As a Moscow court ordered the ban of messenger app Telegram on April 13, 2018, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin tried
to sound reassuring: those who want to keep using it, he said, will look for ways to bypass the blocking. In a rare moment of consensus with the Russian authorities, many Telegram users agreed.
Though conceived as a messenger app similar to WhatsApp, Telegram earned its popularity in Russia thanks to its "channels," a blogging platform somewhere between Twitter and Facebook which quickly attracted political commentators,
journalists and officials. Telegram channels are a booming business, they are widely used in political and corporate wars. Last year Vedomosti, a business newspaper, claimed that political ads (or damaging leaks) on Telegram's most popular
channels could cost as much as 450,000 rubles ($7,500.)
But Telegram's CEO Pavel Durov has repeatedly and vocally refused to comply with the demand of Russian security services to give up the messenger's encryption keys . And as the year-long battle between Telegram and the Russian authorities seemed
to draw to a close with the decision to block the app, reaction to the announcement has been passionate and often derisive.
Kristina Potupchik, formerly a press officer for a pro-Kremlin youth movement, wrote:
Russia has finally become the world's second largest economy after China! At least in the field of permanently blocking Telegram.
Channels dedicated to Russian politics and the inner workings of the Kremlin --among the most popular on the platform-- also largely claimed they were not worried by the ban. About 85% of our users have installed one [a VPN] in the last 24
hours. If you haven't, here are the instructions, channel "Karaulny" (The Sentinel) told its 66,000+ followers.
So far, Telegram remains available in Russia, though sources have told the Interfax news agency that blocking could start as early as April 16.
Comment: Russia crosses another red line in online censorship
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today's decision by a Moscow court to order the immediate blocking of the popular encrypted
messaging service Telegram after it refused to surrender its encryption keys to the Russian intelligence agencies. The decision represents yet another escalation in online censorship and an additional obstacle to journalism in Russia, RSF said.
Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. said:
By blocking Telegram, the Russian authorities are crossing another red line in their control of the Internet. This is a major new blow to free speech in Russia. It also sends a strong intimidatory signal to the digital technology giants that are
battling with the Russian authorities. The authorities are targeting a tool that is essential for the work of journalists, especially for the confidentiality of their sources and data.
After Instagram removed a video detailing a corruption investigation into Russia's ruling elite, it's time to talk about
social networks and the Kremlin.
The one thing that compensates for the strictness of Russian laws is the lack of necessity to follow them. The Russian writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin may have penned this aphorism in the mid-19th century, but it's still relevant in 2018 203
especially when discussing the specifics of doing business in Russia and interacting with the Russian government.
A recent practical lesson in this reality emerged when president Putin signed the Personal Data Domestication Law (PDDL) in 2015. The PDDL, effective from 1 September 2015, demanded that every piece of personal data of Russian citizens operated by
any online service should be stored in a data warehouse within the Russian Federation's geographical borders.
This is a quite remarkable (and typical) piece of Russia's legislative absurdity. Imagine a small online store somewhere in France selling, for instance, carpets. It stores its customers' data on a cloud service without even knowing the
whereabouts of physical servers. In France? Iceland? Is the data somehow distributed throughout the globe by the hosting service provider? Even if the store managed to somehow separate its customers with Russian citizenship (and here don't forget
the homesick employees of the French embassy in Moscow ordering carpets from home, still not being subject to the PDDL), it is hard to imagine our hypothetical store would be capable to setup technical infrastructure to comply with the PDDL.
Of course, Russian legislators were not concerned with small online stores (though a verbatim reading of the PDDL leaves no chance of excluding them). The law is targeted at messaging services and social networks: Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, Skype
and so on. Roskomnadzor (the Russian government internet censorship agency) has been very clear 203 Facebook and Google should move their servers to Russia, making their users data and, most important, messages subject to SORM, the internet
surveillance system created and run by the Russian security services.
An online petition addressed to Google, Facebook and Twitter urging them not to comply with the PDDL and thus to protect privacy and data of their customers from the FSB was launched in summer 2015. It quickly collected over 50,000 signatures, and
some of the best known Russian internet gurus among them. It's hard to say whether the petition was effective or that the internet companies calculated their expenses for fulfilment of the PDDL, but the fact is three years later, in 2018, none of
the major players (Viber being the only exception among messengers) agreed to follow the PDDL. No sanctions from Roskomnadzor followed, though it did threaten them on a number of occasions.
Why so? Dura lex, sed lex, surely? The legislation could be perfectly absurd, yet still it might be hard for a western reader to imagine how a corporation (with all its lawyers and compliance departments) could just disobey it and walk away. But
this is Russia 203 not a democracy, but an authoritarian regime. And there is no rule of law, but the rule of political momentum.
Shutting down Twitter in Russia, where politicians loyal to Putin have accounts and enjoy tweeting, or including Instagram on Roskomnadzor's blacklist (which would imply an immediate block by any ISP in Russia), making million of young Instagram
users unhappy just before the parliamentary and presidential elections 203 any decision of this kind has to be approved by the Russian president himself. No court and no other part of the regime would dare to take responsibility given the possible
political consequences. Anything that could make people unhappy and drive them to the streets is decided by Putin. This is the way an autocracy operates.
Once you realise this fact, it's easy to see why LinkedIn was selected by Roskomnadzor as the first victim of PDDL in summer 2016.
Indeed, LinkedIn is still the only victim. It was selected by Roskomnadzor carefully: sure, it's a big brand, with an even a bigger one behind it (Microsoft), but LinkedIn's popularity in Russia has been limited to a small part of the white-collar
audience working for or doing business with western companies. A rather small audience. And what's more important: this is not the kind of audience that would march on the streets against internet censorship. LinkedIn was chosen to scare off
larger players. On the technical and legal side, there was absolutely no difference between how LinkedIn and how Facebook stored and dealt with the personal data of their Russian users. The only thing that made a difference was politics.
This PDDL case has been an important lesson, and it's a pity that not everyone has learnt it for good. In February, Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader unlawfully banned from the presidential election, but who remains Putin's most
prominent and feared critic, published a video proving that Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to US lobbyist Paul Manafort, secretly met with Sergey Prikhodko, deputy prime minister of Russian government who oversees foreign
policy. Indeed, the leaked conversation happened during a yacht trip off the Norwegian coast in August 2016. Several escort girls were also present.
This could be the missing link between Manafort and Putin 203 and perhaps it was, judging from the Russian government's reaction. The day after Navalny's investigation was published online on YouTube and Instagram, a court in the small southern
Russian city of Ust'-Labinsk (which happens to be Deripaska's hometown) decided that Navalny's video violated the oligarch's and deputy prime minister right to a private life (!). It ordered every instance of the video to be blacklisted by
Roskomnadzor, effective immediately. This pace was record-breaking: usually any lawsuits relating to violation of an individual's right to a private life take years. For instance, in summer 2016, the FSB leaked footage of Navalny fishing with his
family on a lake. This surveillance video was included as part of a documentary on a state-owned TV-channel, and used as evidence that opposition leader spends his vacation in too chic a manner. The court is still due to set a hearing date.
But what does it mean when Roskomnadzor is required to block some video from the technical point of view? When a website is blacklisted, it is included on the registry of forbidden content, which Roskomnadzor updates several times a day and
distributes among all Russians ISPs. The latter face huge fines or the revocation of their license if they fail to restrict access their customers' access to every website included in the registry. If a website uses HTTPS, a secure connection
protocol, though, the ISP doesn't possess the information concerning which exact URL a user is trying to reach. Technically, in the Deripaska case, only two entries on Navalny's blog have been included in the blacklist registry, but all the ISPs
blocked the entire domain of Navalny.com (some of them even blocked all the subdomains, including the website of Navalny's presidential campaign). They simply had no choice. Similarly, should any single YouTube video be included in the registry,
YouTube will become inaccessible for customers of Russian ISPs on the same day. Should any Instagram story be put on the blacklist, millions of Instagram users will get angry. This is already politics.
Thus, having a valid (albeit speedy) court decision beforehand, Roskomnadzor immediately blacklisted navalny.com and a few dozen other websites which dared to publish Navalny's investigation 203 but not the YouTube and Instagram videos with
exactly the same information and mentioned in the same court decision alongside other prohibited URLs. At the end of the day, Roskomnadzor are not fools: they are well aware of the risk of shutting down YouTube 203 this kind of action nearly led
to a coup in Brazil recently. Instead, Roskomnadzor started sending emails. They informed YouTube and Instagram that Navalny's video is recognised as illegal in Russia and asked them to remove it voluntarily. YouTube contacted Navalny's office and
asked him to remove it. Navalny refused. Youtube refused also. Instagram took the video down without even attempting to contest Roskomnadzor's email. Roskomnadzor threatened Google with sanctions because of YouTube's disobeyal. Google ignored it.
A month later, the video (which has over seven million views) is still freely accessible on the YouTube. No sanctions were applied to Google. After two weeks of threats, Roskomnadzor officially admitted it is not considering shutting down YouTube
in Russia. So Google, via YouTube, has outplayed internet censorship and once again, as in the case of PDDL, proven its readiness to put its customers' interests first. Meanwhile, Facebook, in the form of Instagram, should be considered a company
that is ready to help Putin clean up the Manafort mess by censoring material online.
Legal compliance shouldn't be the only way of doing business in authoritarian states, where the regime can easily undertake unlawful actions to pursue political goals. Politics is another consideration. So is protecting your customers.
Encrypted messaging app Telegram has lost an appeal before Russia's Supreme Court where it sought to
block the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) from gaining access to user data.
Last year, the FSB asked Telegram to share its encryption keys and the company declined, resulting in a $14,000 fine. Today, Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova upheld that ruling and denied Telegram's appeal. Telegram plans to appeal the latest
ruling as well.
If Telegram is found to be non-compliant, it could face another fine and even have the service blocked in Russia, one of its largest markets.
The Death of Stalin is a 2017 France / UK historical comedy biography by Armando Iannucci.
Starring Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs and Steve Buscemi.
The internal political landscape of 1950's Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci. In the days following Stalin's collapse, his core
team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They're all just desperately trying to remain alive. A film that combines comedy, drama, pathos and
political manoeuvring, The Death of Stalin is a Quad and Main Journey production, directed by Armando Iannucci, and produced by Yann Zenou, Kevin Loader, Nicolas Duval Assakovsky, and Laurent Zeitoun. The script is written by Iannucci, David
Schneider and Ian Martin, with additional material by Peter Fellows.
The Russian release of British comedy film The Death of Stalin has been shelved following a screening before senior figures on Monday night. The Russian attendees complained that the satire contained ideological warfare and extremism. The
film's distribution certificate was withdrawn, effectively cancelling its planned Thursday release.
The screening was attended by members of parliament as well as representatives from Russian cinema. Yelena Drapeko, deputy head of the lower house of parliament's culture committee, told RBK news she had never seen anything so disgusting in my
The film, from director Armando Iannucci, is a satire of the power struggle in Moscow following Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. Many of the main characters are real historical figures.
February is the anniversary of the Russian victory at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. It was led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov whose daughter was one of 21 signatories on an open letter to the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, complaining about
the film. The letter said:
The film insults the Russian people and even the Soviet Union's national anthem - heard in the trailer was used inappropriately.
Update: Cinema threatened after screening the banned film to an invited audience
The Russian Culture Ministry has warned cinemas in the country that they will face legal ramifications if they continue to show the banned film, The Death Of Stalin. The statement came after the Pioner (Pioneer) movie theater in Moscow defied the
government ban and screened the film to a packed audience.
Showing a movie without a license can bring a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,800). A second violation could lead to a theater's closure. Police officers raided the Pioner theater along with what appeared to be plain-clothes officers on January
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ludicrously claimed the banning of the film did not constitute censorship. He said: We disagree that it's a manifestation of censorship.
Military historian Anthony Beevor has had one of his books banned in Ukraine. The 1998 bestseller Stalingrad was barred for import last week alongside 24 other books for being anti-Ukrainian.
The accusation was levelled at Beevor's examination of the Second World War battle due to passages about Ukrainian militias slaughtering Jewish children on SS orders.
Serhiy Oliyinyk, the head of the Ukrainian State TV and Radio Broadcasting's licensing and distribution control department, alleges that the account hasn't been proven and was based on unreliable Soviet secret police material.
The author has responded that he used thoroughly reliable German sources; not Soviet sources, including a book by Helmut Groscurth, an anti-Nazi German officer, that was backed up by eyewitness accounts.
Beevor branded the ban preposterous and called the state's position completely unsustainable.
Paddington 2 is a 2017 UK / France / USA family animation comedy by Paul King.
Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant and Hugh Bonneville.
Paddington is happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes. While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy's 100th
birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber's antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it's up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.
Paddington Bear 2, a comedy about a friendly bear has sparked an unlikely scandal over government discrimination against foreign films in Russia this week.
Russian cinemas were left dumbfounded after the Culture Ministry delayed issuing a screening license for Paddington 2, one day before it was scheduled to be released in theaters.
The ministry said it delayed the Jan. 18 screening until Feb. 1 because of another film scheduled to premiere on the same day. Russia's Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said the decision was made in the interests of Russian films and not in the
interests of Hollywood..
Remarkably, the distributing company announced late on Friday that the ministry's decision had been overturned after public pressure and an official appeal to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Medinsky explained:
We have come to a consensus with the industry, and have decided to meet the Volgafilm company halfway and allow the release of the film tomorrow [Jan. 20],.
Matilda is a 2017 Russia historical biography by Aleksey Uchitel.
Starring Michalina Olszanska, Lars Eidinger and Luise Wolfram.
In the twilight of Imperial Russia, prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya becomes the mistress of three Grand Dukes.
Ukrainian authorities have banned the release of the Russian film Matilda featuring the story of romance between Crown Prince Nicholas [would-be Czar Nicholas II] and the young etoile of the Imperial Ballet, Mathilde Kschessinska.
Dmitry Kapranov, a censor from the State Agency for Cinematography [Goskino], said on Wednesday the decision was taken because of participation in the film of a musician whom the Ukrainian authorities had put on the blacklist of unwanted
foreigners. He said:
Now we've denied permission for a release of the film 'Matilda' on the basis of formal criteria. Our spectators may say, of course, well he is just a musician and you ban the film but I can ask them in response, would you go to the
marketplace and buy the watermelons with nitrates there?
Such watermelons do contain some vitamins but they also contain the nitrates, Kapranov said. And these people on the blacklist are the very same nitrates and their produce is therefore poisoned.
Matilda, a film directed by Alexei Uchitel, was released in Russia in October 2017. It aroused a scandal in the wake of heated public debates stirred by the State Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya, who campaigned for banning it. Poklonskaya claimed
that Matilda supposedly insulted the memory of Nicholas II, who is canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a new holy martyr for faith, and the feelings of believers.