In April, draft legislation was developed to crack down on systems and software that allow Russian Internet users to bypass website blockades approved by telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor.
Earlier this month the draft bill was submitted to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. If passed, the law will make it illegal for services to circumvent web blockades by “routing traffic of Russian Internet users through foreign servers, anonymous proxy servers, virtual private networks and other means.”
As the plans currently stand, anonymization services that fail to restrict access to sites listed by telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor face being blocked themselves. Sites offering circumvention software for download also face potential blacklisting.
This week the State Duma discussed the proposals with experts from the local Internet industry. In addition to the head of Rozcomnadzor, representatives from service providers, search engines and even anonymization services were in attendance. Novaya Gazeta has published comments (Russian) from some of the key people at the meeting and it’s fair to say there’s not a lot of support.
VimpelCom, the sixth largest mobile network operator in the world with more than 240 million subscribers, sent along Director for Relations with Government, Sergey Malyanov. He wondered where all this blocking will end up.
“First we banned certain information. Then this information was blocked with the responsibility placed on both owners of resources and services. Now there are blocks on top of blocks – so we already have a triple effort,” he said.
“It is now possible that there will be a fourth iteration: the block on the block to block those that were not blocked. And with that, we have significantly complicated the law and the activities of all the people affected by it.”
Malyanov said that these kinds of actions have the potential to close down the entire Internet by ruining what was once an open network running standard protocols. But amid all of this, will it even be effective?
“The question is not even about the losses that will be incurred by network operators, the owners of the resources and the search engines. The question is whether this bill addresses the goal its creators have set for themselves. In my opinion, it will not.”
Group-IB, one of the world’s leading cyber-security and threat intelligence providers, was represented CEO Ilya Sachkov. He told parliament that “ordinary respectable people” who use the Internet should always use a VPN for security. Nevertheless, he also believes that such services should be forced to filter sites deemed illegal by the state.
But in a warning about blocks in general, he warned that people who want to circumvent them will always be one step ahead.
“We have to understand that by the time the law is adopted the perpetrators will already find it very easy to circumvent,” he said.
Mobile operator giant MTS, which turns over billions of dollars and employs 50,000+ people, had their Vice-President of Corporate and Legal Affairs in attendance. Ruslan Ibragimov said that in dealing with a problem, the government should be cautious of not causing more problems, including disruption of a growing VPN market.
“We have an understanding that evil must be fought, but it’s not necessary to create a new evil, even more so – for those who are involved in this struggle,” he said.
“Broad wording of this law may pose a threat to our network, which could be affected by the new restrictive measures, as well as the VPN market, which we are currently developing, and whose potential market is estimated at 50 billion rubles a year.”
In its goal to maintain control of the Internet, it’s clear that Russia is determined to press ahead with legislative change. Unfortunately, it’s far from clear that there’s a technical solution to the problem, but if one is pursued regardless, there could be serious fallout.