Online freedom in Russia is getting worse and worse and the latest laws being considered by the Russian Parliament look set to lead to a further deterioration.
MPs are currently pushing through legislation that would force all computers and mobile devices sold in Russia to come with a series of pre-installed applications which would pose a massive threat to users online security and privacy.
Now the Russian Duma (lower parliament) is considering a law which it claims would protect Russian technology against competition from overseas tech companies.
But protectionism is the least of the Russian people's concerns if this law makes it onto the statute books. Compelling devices to come pre-installed with domestic apps offers the Putin regime a wonderful opportunity to spy on every single
Russian internet user and punish those who deviate from its exacting regulations.
Google has paid a fine for failing to block access to certain websites banned in Russia.
Roscomnadzor, the Russian government's internet and media censor, said that Google paid a fine of 700,000 rubles ($10,900) related to the company's refusal to fully comply with rules imposed under the country's censorship regime.
Search engines are prohibited under Russian law from displaying banned websites in the results shown to users, and companies like Google are asked to adhere to a regularly updated blacklist maintained by Roscomnadzor.
Google does not fully comply with the blacklist, however, and more than a third of the websites banned in Russia could be found using its search engine, Roscomnadzor said previously.
No doubt Russia is no working on increased fines for future transgressions.
Russia's powerful internal security agency FSB has enlisted the help of the telecommunications, IT and media censor Roskomnadzor to ask a court to block Mailbox and Scryptmail email providers.
It seems that the services failed to register with the authorities as required by Russian law. Both are marketed as focusing strongly on the privacy segment and offering end-to-end encryption.
News source RBK noted that the process to block the two email providers will in legal terms follow the model applied to the Telegram messaging service -- adding, however, that imperfections in the blocking system are resulting in Telegram's
continued availability in Russia.
On the other hand, some experts argued that it will be easier to block an email service than a messenger like Telegram. In any case, Russia is preparing to a new law to come into effect on November 1 that will see the deployment of Deep Packet
Inspection equipment, which should result in more efficient blocking of services.
In late July, mobile network providers in Kazakhstan started sending out SMS messages demanding that their clients install a 'national security certificate' on all personal digital devices with internet access. These messages claimed that the
certificate would protect citizens from cyberattacks. They also assured users who did not install the application that they would encounter problems accessing certain websites (particularly those with HTTPS encryption.)
This news came one and a half months after Kazakhstan's government blocked access to internet and streaming services on June 9, when the country held presidential elections. The victory of Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev came amid mass protests calling
for fair elections. Meanwhile, an internet blackout prevented protesters from coordinating their actions, helping police to arrest them.
These moves led some observers to fear the beginning of a wider crackdown on digital rights in Kazakhstan. So while Tokayev called off the introduction of the controversial national security certificates on August 6, there are grounds to doubt
that this will be the government's last attempt to intrude on cyberspace. Fear and suspicion on social media
In the first days [after receiving the SMS messages] we faced lots of panic. People were afraid that they would indeed be deprived of access to certain websites without installing the security certificate, Gulmira Birzhanova, a lawyer at the
North Kazakhstan Legal Media Centre told GV:
However, few users rushed to obey the SMS messages. I didn't install [the application]. I don't even know if any of my acquaintances dida.
Nevertheless, the demands to install an unknown security tool caused a wave of distrust and outrage on social media.
Daniil Vartanov, an IT expert from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, was one of the first people to react to the launch of the certificate and confirmed users' suspicions.
Now they can read and replace everything you look at online. Your personal information can be accessed by anybody in the state security services, ministry of internal affairs, or even the illicitly hired nephew of some top official. This isn't
an exaggeration; this is really how bad it is.
On August 1, Kazakhstan's prosecutor general issued a statement reassuring citizens that the national security certificate was aimed to protect internet users from illicit content and cyberattacks, stressing that the state guaranteed their right
IT experts proved otherwise. Censored Planet, a project at the University of Michigan which monitors network interference in over 170 countries, warned that the Kazakh authorities had started attempting to intercept encrypted traffic using man in
the middle attacks on July 17. At least 37 domains were affected, including social media networks.
Man in the middle or HTTPS interception attacks are attempts to replace genuine online security certificates with fake ones. Normally, a security certificate helps a browser or application (for example, Instagram or Snapchat) to ensure that it
connects to the real server. If a state, [internet] provider or illegal intruder tries to intercept traffic, the application will stop working and the browser will display a certificate error. The Kazakh authorities push citizens to install this
certificate so that the browser and application continue to work after the interception is spotted, explained Vartanov in an interview to GV in early August.
This was the authorities' third attempt to enforce the use of a national security certificate. The first came in late November 2015, right after certificate-related amendments were made to Kazakhstan's law on communication. The law obliges
telecom operators to apply a national security certificate to all encrypted traffic except in cases where the encryption originates from Kazakhstan.
That same month, service providers announced that a national security certificate would come into force by January 2016. The announcement was soon taken down, and the issue remained forgotten for three years.
The second attempt came in March 2019, and was barely noticed by the public until they started to receive the aforementioned SMS messages in July.
After two weeks of turmoil on social media, Tokayev called off the certificate on August 6.
Why did Tokayev put the initiative on hold? Dmitry Doroshenko, an expert with over 15 years of experience in Central Asia's telecommunications sector, believes that concern about the security of online transactions played a major role:
In case of a man in the middle attack, an illegal intruder or state can use any decrypted data at their own discretion. That compromises all participants in any exchange of information. Most players in online markets would not be able to
guarantee data privacy and security, said Doroshenko. It's obvious that neither internet giants nor banks or international payment systems are ready to take this blow to their reputation. If information were leaked, users would hold them to
account rather than the state, which would not be unable to conduct any objective investigation, the IT specialist told Global Voices.
Citizens of Kazakhstan also appealed to tech giants to intervene and prevent the government from setting a dangerous precedent. On August 21, Mozilla, Google, and Apple agreed to block the Kazakh government's encryption certificate. In its
statement, Mozilla noted that the country's authorities had already tried to have a certificate included in Mozilla's trusted root store program in 2015. After it was discovered that they were intending to use the certificate to intercept user
data, Mozilla denied the request.
Kazakhstan is hardly the only country where the right to digital privacy is under threat. The British government wants to create a backdoor to access encrypted communications, as do its partners in the US. The Kremlin wants to make social media
companies store data on servers located in Russia.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has contacted Ukraine's Government after Bellingcat investigative journalists revealed that Brenton Tarrent's manifesto was offered for sale in hardcopies via messengers in Ukraine.
New Zealand has made the request through diplomatic channels. News source MFA Ukraine reports on a response from a Ukrainian diplomat saying that Ukraine is concerned by the emerging reports about the distribution of such material in Ukraine:
We are convinced that there must be no place for racism, neo-Nazism and religious hatred in Ukrainian society.
The diplomats also said that they had already approached the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Service of Ukraine with a request to confirm or deny the fact of the distribution of hardcopies of the manifesto translated into Ukrainian.
Google and Mozilla have moved to block the Kazakhstan government from intercepting encrypted internet traffic.
It comes after reports ISPs in the country required people to install a government-issued certificate on all devices and in every browser. Google and Mozilla noted that installing the compromised certificate allows the government to decrypt and
read anything a user types or posts.
Google and Mozilla said they would deploy a technical solution to their browsers to block the certificates. Chrome senior engineering director Parisa Tabriz said:
We will never tolerate any attempt, by any organisation - government or otherwise - to compromise Chrome users' data.
We have implemented protections from this specific issue, and will always take action to secure our users around the world.
Saying that Chrome's seems more than happy to allow UK user's browsing history data to be monitored by the state when it could implement an encrypted DNS alternative.
Mozilla senior director of trust and security Marshall Erwin said: People around the world trust Firefox to protect them as they navigate the internet, especially when it comes to keeping them safe from attacks like this that undermine their
According to researchers at Censored Planet , who have been tracking the interception system in Kazakhstan, the government have been mainly using the facility to monitor Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Russia is continuing its pressure on Google to censor political political opinion that the government does not like. Media censor Roskomnadzor has sent a letter to Google insisting that it stop promoting banned mass events on YouTube.
It particularly didn't like that YouTube channels were using push notifications and other measures to spread information about protests, such as the recent demonstrations objecting to Moscow banning some opposition politicians from running in
upcoming elections. Some users are allegedly receiving these alerts even if they're not subscribed to the channels.
The Russian agency said it would treat continued promotion as interference in the sovereign affairs of the country and consider Google a hostile influence ostensibly bent on obstructing elections.
Political protests have continued to grow in Russia (the most recent had about 50,000 participants), and they've turned increasingly from the Moscow-specific complaints to general dissatisfaction with President Putin's anti-democratic policies.
Back in March, ten major VPN providers including NordVPN, ExpressVPN, IPVanish and HideMyAss were ordered by Russian authorities to begin blocking sites present in the country's national blacklist. Following almost total non-compliance, the
country's internet censor says that blocking nine of the services is now imminent.
Back in March, telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor wrote to ten major VPN providers -- NordVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection, HideMyAss!, Hola VPN, and OpenVPN -- ordering them to connect to the
database. All teh foreign companies refused to comply.
Only teh Russia based company,Kaspersky Secure Connection, connected to the registry, Roscomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov informs Interfax .
Russian law says unequivocally if the company refuses to comply with the law -- it should be blocked. And it appears that Roscomnadzor is prepared to carry through with its threat. When questioned on the timeline for blocking, Zharov said that
the matter could be closed within a month.
Rocketman is a 2019 UK / USA musical music biography by Dexter Fletcher.
Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Taron Egerton and Richard Madden.
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John's breakthrough years.
During the Russian premiere of Rocketman on 30th May in Moscow, film goers noticed the 40s gay male sex scene between Elton John (Taron Egerton) and manager, John Reid (Richard Madden) was missing.
Film critic Anton Dolin saw the original version in Cannes and remarked the Russian edit cut out scenes of kissing, sex and oral sex between men. This included a photo of Elton John and his husband David Furnish in the closing credits. It also
didn't show scenes featuring drug and alcohol use. Around five minutes in total was missing from the Russian cut of Rocketman.
Maybe the 5 minutes may be an exaggeration. Not also that there are Russian laws banning the 'promotion' of gay sex so such censorship may be a legal necessity rather than a morality decision by the film censor.
Update: Russian distributors blasted by Elton John
Elton John has hit out at Russian film distributors for editing out gay sex scenes from his biopic Rocketman, adding that it was a sad reflection of the divided world we still live in.
The local film distributor, Central Partnership company told news agency TASS that it cut the scenes to comply with Russian legislation
The decision to remove the scenes was made solely by the distributor, Russia's Culture Ministry told TASS, adding that it issued no recommendations concerning the scenes.
Film critic Dolin said the grossest thing about the Russian edit was that the final caption had been removed from the closing credits. In the original, it says that Elton John found the love of his life and is raising children with the man he
loves (there is a dramatic moment in the film when his mother says to him 'you are doomed to be lonely'). In the Russian version it says the musician set up a foundation to fight AIDS and is still working with a long-time co-author.
In March, the Russian government's internet censor Roskomnadzor contacted 10 leading VPN providers to demand they comply with local censorship laws or risk being blocked.
Roskomnadzor equired them to hook up to a dedicated government system that defines a list of websites required to be blocked to Russian internet users.
The VPN providers contacted were ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, HideMyAss!, TorGuard, Hola VPN, OpenVPN, and Kaspersky Secure Connection. The deadline has now passed and the only VPN company that has agreed to comply with
the new requirements is the Russia-based Kaspersky Secure Connection.
Most other providers on the list have removed their VPN servers from Russia altogether, so asn ot to be at risk of being asked to hand over information to Russia about their customers.
Russia took another step toward government control over the internet on Thursday, as lawmakers approved a bill that will open the door to sweeping censorship.
The legislation is designed to route web traffic through servers controlled by Roskomnadzor, the state communications censor, increasing its power to control information and block messaging or other applications.
It also provides for Russia to create its own system of domain names that would allow the internet to continue operating within the country, even if it were cut off from the global web.
The bill is expected to receive final approval before the end of the month. Once signed into law by Putin, the bulk of it will go into effect on Nov. 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a measure expands government censorship control over the Russian internet.
The law, signed Wednesday, requires ISPs to install equipment to route Russian internet traffic through servers in the country. Proponents said it is a defense measure in case the United States or other hostile powers cut off the internet for
Avengers: Endgame is a 2019 USA action Sci-Fi fantasy by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.
Starring Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr and Karen Gillan.
The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios' grand conclusion to twenty-two films, Avengers:
The Russian release of Avengers: Endgame features some tweaked dialogue in an early scene to straighten out Marvel's first gay character. The censorship was intended to avoid conflicts with Russia's ban on so-called gay propaganda.
[ Spoilers! hover or click text below]
Early in the movie, one of the two Russo brothers plays a gay character who attends a support group with Steve Rogers (Captain America). The scene is brief but it marks the first time an openly gay character has appeared in a Marvel film. The
gay character says:
So, I went on a date the other day. First time in five years. He cried as they were serving the salad. [...] But I'm seeing him again tomorrow.
In the dubbed Russian version, Joe Russo's character says:
I was recently at dinner. First time in five years. [...] He cried over a plate of salad. [...] Tomorrow I'm meeting him again.
Hellboy is a 2019 USA action Sci-Fi fantasy by Neil Marshall.
Starring Daniel Dae Kim, Milla Jovovich and David Harbour.
Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, Hellboy, caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battles an ancient sorceress bent on revenge.
The latest remake of Hellboy hit Russian cinemas on 11 April. However, audiences in Russia discovered that in their version of the film a reference to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had been changed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
[ Spoilers! hover or click text below]
In a line of expository dialogue, the film's titular character reveals that one of the supporting antagonists, Russian folklore character Baba Yaga, once attempted to resurrect the spirit of Stalin.
The original line, uttered by Hellboy upon confronting Baba Yaga, is: I recall you tried to raise Stalin's ghost from a necropolis.
In the film's Russian-language version, according to small independent TV channel Dozhd, the line goes: I want to remind you, you tried to raise Hitler's spirit from a necropolis.
Theatres screening the English-language version of the film complemented it with Russian subtitles. During this scene, the audio for Stalin's name was bleeped, while the subtitles said Hitler.
In addition a Russian swearword was removed (but swear words in English were allowed to remain).
In Russia, the film received an 18 rating compared with the BBFC's 15 rating and the MPAA's R rating.
Russia's media censor Roskomnadzor has threatened to block access to popular VPN-services which allow users to gain access to websites which have been banned by Moscow.
Russia has introduced internet censorship laws, requiring search engines to delete some results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store users' personal data on servers within the country.
But VPN services can allow users to establish secure internet connections and reach websites which have been banned or blocked. Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it had asked the owners of 10 VPN services to implement the
country's registry of banned websites and block access to the specified sites.
The internet censor said that it had sent notifications to NordVPN, Hide My Ass!, Hola VPN, Openvpn, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, Kaspersky Secure Connection and VPN Unlimited, giving them a month to reply.
In the cases of non-compliance with the obligations stipulated by the law, Roskomnadzor has threatened to block the offending VPNs.
Meanwhile a new censorship bill has been introduced to the Russian parliament (Duma) that established the concept of a Russian internet called Runet that can operate independently of the worldwide internet.
Runet is envisaged as a Russian space that allows state censors to block Russian internet users from access to foreign websites whilst allowing them to continue using local websites approved by the internet censor. It also provides for continued
internet access in Russia space should the rest of the world cut off Russia.
Russia notes the overwhelming majority of the key services running the worldwide internet are under US control. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said: That's not very good actually.
The legislation was initially drafted in response to a new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using the web to undermine its democracy and economy.
President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on the Russian Internet by signing two censorship bills into law. One bans fake news while the other makes it illegal to insult public officials.
Russia has never really been a liberal democracy. It lacks an independent judiciary, and the government has found a variety of techniques to harass and intimidate independent media in the country.
But the new legislation gives the Russian government more direct tools to censor online speech. Under one bill, individuals can face fines and jail time if they publish material online that shows a clear disrespect for society, the state, the
official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and bodies exercising state power. Punishments can be as high as 300,000 rubles ($4,700) and 15 days in jail.
A second bill subjects sites publishing unreliable socially significant information to fines as high as 1.5 million rubles ($23,000).
Thousands of people in Moscow and other Russian cities took to the streets over the weekend to protest legislation they fear could lead to widespread internet censorship in the country.
The protests, which were some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years, came in response to a bill in parliament that would route all internet traffic through servers in Russia, making virtual private networks (VPNs) ineffective.
Critics note that the bill creates an internet firewall similar to China's.
People gathered in a cordoned off Prospekt Sakharova street in Moscow, made speeches on a stage and chanted slogans such as hands off the internet and no to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet. The rally gathered around 15,300 people,
according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies. Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.
Russia's parliament has advanced repressive new internet laws allowing the authorities to jail or fine those who spread supposed 'fake news' or disrespect government officials online.
Under the proposed laws, which still await final passage and presidential signature, people found guilty of spreading indecent posts that demonstrate disrespect for society, the state, (and) state symbols of the Russian Federation, as well as
government officials such as President Vladimir Putin, can face up to 15 days in administrative detention. Private individuals who post fake news can be hit will small fines of between $45 and $75, and legal entities face much higher penalties of
up to $15,000, according to draft legislation.
The anti-fake news bill, which passed the Duma, or lower house of parliament, also compels ISPs to block access to content which offends human dignity and public morality.
It defines fake news as any unverified information that threatens someone's life and (or) their health or property, or threatens mass public disorder or danger, or threatens to interfere or disrupt vital infrastructure, transport or social
services, credit organizations, or energy, industrial, or communications facilities.
The Russian State Duma is considering multiple bills of law that would further stifle free speech in Russia's already heavily restricted internet environment.
One targets expressions of willful disregard towards the state. Another targets disinformation. All of them echo increasingly global concerns among governments about the political implications of disinformation -- and unbridled criticism -- on
the internet. And all have been heavily criticized by Russian civil society groups, experts, users and even the government's own ministers. Yet these bills promoting possible further crackdown on free speech still trudge on through the
The first bill, a sovereign internet initiative , which is yet to reach the floor of the lower chamber of Russia's bicameral parliament, seeks to establish state-regulated internet exchange points that would allow for increased monitoring and
control over internet traffic moving into and out of the country.
Under this law, individuals, officials or organizations accused of spreading fake news disguised as genuine public announcements which are found to promote public disorder or other serious disturbances could be fined for up to a million rubles
(slightly above USD $15,000), unless they remove the violating content in a day's time. The bill also provides measures through which Roskomnadzor, Russia's media watchdog, will order ISPs to block websites hosting the offending content.
The bill passed its first reading in late January with flying colours, receiving 336 votes in its favor and only 44 against, thanks to the 2016 landslide which guaranteed the ruling United Russia party an absolute voting majority.
The anti-fake news bill will be reviewed again by the Duma in February, conditioned on the revision of some of its most contentious points. The bill pushed through by Putin's party was met with a rare response of significant opposition, even
among the normally acquiescent branches of Russia's highly centralized and executive-biased power structure. The attorney general's office, among others, criticized the bill's vague definitions as potentially damaging to citizens' civil rights.
The second bill , which came up for review alongside the fake news-busting proposal, is seen as being even more controversial. It seeks to punish vulgar expressions of wilful disregard towards the state, its symbols and organs of its power with
fines of up to 5,000 rubles (around USD $76) and detention for up to 15 days. The bill also passed in the first reading on the same day, despite vocal criticism from both government members (Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin said that
calmly accepting criticism was an obligation for state officials, adding that they weren't made of sugar) and opposition parties.
Google has agreed to censor search results in Russia as dictated by country's internet censor. This will then allow Google to continue operations in Russia.
Google is one of a few search engines that does not adhere to an official list of banned websites that should not be included in search results.. However, Google already deletes 70% links from its search results to websites that internet censor
Roskomnadzor has banned.
In December of 2018, Roskomnadzor charged Google a fine of 500,000 rubles ($7,590) for refusing to subscribe to the banned list. The company did not challenge the agency's decision and chose to pay the fine. The Russian law that made the fine
possible does not allow Roskomnadzor to block sites that do not comply with its censorship demands, but that did not stop Roskomnadzor from threatening to block Google within Russian borders regardless.
The Russian TV censor has found certain violations in activities of the BBC World News broadcaster in Russia. The probe into the broadcaster's actions was launched in response to the British TV censor Ofcom's ruling against the Russian
propaganda channel RT for biased reporting about the Salisbury poisoning.
Roskomnadzor the Russian TV censor said BBC World News in Russia, has been found in breach of Russian legislation following an unscheduled inspection. It did not elaborate on the nature of the revealed violations but said that it is assessing
their severity. Roskomnadzor will later provide further information about the measures taken.
On a separate occasion, January 10, Roskomnadzor said it found some BBC online reports in breach of Russian anti-extremism laws as they contained some direct quotes of Al-Baghdadi, the head of Islamic State, something that is banned under a
Russia has latched onto the usefulness of claiming fake news when censoring messages that it doesn't like.
A new law passing through parliament will punish media outlets with fines and even imprisonment for publishing 'fake news' or information showing disrespect to government bodies and officials.
Prosecutors would be able to block websites without court orders, while publications found guilty of spreading unreliable socially-significant information would face fines of as much as $US15,000 under a measure passed Thursday by the lower house
of parliament at first reading.
A second law threatens people with up to 15 days in jail, as well as a ban on their publications, if they distribute material expressing a clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the
Constitution of the Russian Federation and bodies exercising state power.
Russia's internet censor, Roskomnadzor, has filed administrative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter for failing to comply with local censorship laws.
Roskomnadzor said that the two social networks did not explain how and when they would comply with legislation requiring them to store Russian users' personal data on servers in Russia. Roskomnadzor told CNBC:
The companies managing the social networks of Facebook and Twitter provided formal answers to our demands to confirm the localization of personal data of Russian users in Russia. They do not contain specifics about the actual implementation of
the legislation at the current moment, nor about the timing of the implementation of these standards in the future.
In this regard, today Roskomnadzor begins administrative proceedings against both companies.