Critics of the bill not only suspect the Kremlin of trying to tighten censorship, but also consider the project technically unmanageable
Almost a week ago, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill on the protection of Internet operations in the event of a foreign cyberattack. Critics of the Kremlin and some MPs agree that the country will not have enough technological resources to implement this venture..
The bill on the creation of the so-called “Runet” – an internal network designed to function independently of the global Internet – gave rise to comparisons with the “great firewall” in China.
According to Russian state media, the bill was prepared in connection with growing tensions with Western countries, which accuse Moscow of committing cyberattacks using social networks in order to influence elections in foreign countries..
However, critics see the bill as a ploy by the Kremlin to take control of domestic cyber infrastructure as part of a broader campaign to tighten censorship and crack down on political activism on the Internet..
According to the bill, all Russian web traffic should be directed through points controlled by the state, and it is proposed to create a national domain name system in the country that will allow the Internet in Russia to function even if it is denied access to foreign infrastructure..
Last week, when the bill was being considered in the first reading, some members of the parliamentary minority expressed concerns that such a measure would lead to an “Internet Brexit”, while others wondered how Russia would build the technical infrastructure needed to comply with the law..
A Just Russia deputy Valery Gartung asked his colleagues how they can pass a bill that they do not understand, since they are not experts in information technology.
“In our country, nothing of the technical means providing access to the Internet is produced – except for wires, on which some people probably need to hang themselves,” said Sergei Ivanov, a deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
One of the authors of the bill, Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB officer and one of the key suspects in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in the UK, dismissed criticism, emphasizing the seriousness of the cyber threat from the United States..
“We, colleagues, are not playing in kindergarten,” he said. In 2012, during a special operation, the US NSA disconnected Syria from the Internet “.
In a 2014 interview with Wired magazine, Edward Snowden stated that the US National Security Agency accidentally turned off the Internet in Syria in an attempt to hack.
Andrei Soldatov, co-author of The Red Network on the history of Internet surveillance in Russia, is convinced that concerns about US cyber aggression are just another pretext for political censorship campaigns that date back to the Soviet era..
“Look at the text of the bill,” he notes. “Censorship and filtering is a key part of it.” Soldatov said the document requires all Internet service providers to install new equipment that changes or interrupts traffic flows and filters content. “It has nothing to do with defending against the United States. I do not believe in this explanation that all this is aimed at protecting Russian Internet users or the Russian Internet from possible aggression from the United States. “.
“The main concern for the government right now is the mobilizing potential of the Internet,” he said, explaining that so far the Kremlin’s efforts to tighten control over the Internet after a record wave of street protests in 2012 have yielded little results. “So they want to deprive the internet of that potential.” According to him, in Soviet times, the idea was to completely seal the country, stopping the flow of uncensored information..
“But today, even with all the filtering that is available, if you want to access some confidential information on the Internet, it can be done quite easily,” he explains. “The idea is to prevent political activists from using social media and the Internet in general to organize protests.”.
While the isolation of the Russian Internet would jeopardize the prospects for international Internet commerce, Soldatov said the Russian authorities do not appear to be particularly concerned, as the “climate of Internet uncertainty” that has persisted for decades has already forced some Russian IT companies to leave the market..
Why Russia Aims to Create a ‘Sovereign Internet’
The Kremlin has long decided to put security interests above the interests of business, the expert notes.
“Two years ago, Putin signed a new draft doctrine on information security. And if you study the text, you will see that its main idea is that Russian telecommunications and IT companies should consult with the security services before introducing new technologies, ”he notes. – It is clear that safety comes first, and technological progress comes second, which is not good for business. This means that first you have to go to the FSB and ask if they are satisfied with this or that new technology “.
Answering the question whether the defenders of freedom of speech and freedom on the Internet will be able to circumvent the new restrictions, Soldatov gives an optimistic forecast: “Yes, of course. It is already clear that there are always gaps in such systems. The system will be quite permeable, because we are talking about the Internet itself, and this is a technology, by definition, designed so that there is a loophole for traffic. “.
“This is the case in many countries, such as China, where whole communities of activists are finding workarounds,” he adds. – The problem remains with everyone else. So this is a kind of divided Internet, where 70-80 percent of the population resigns to the situation, and activists are looking for workarounds. It may turn out like this “.
In an interview with the Riga-based media resource Meduza, the technical director of the Roskomsvoboda project, Stanislav Shakirov, noted that in Russia, unlike China, there is no investment infrastructure for developing its own tech start-ups. In addition, according to him, the Russian domestic market is not large enough to withstand competition in isolation, and the unfriendly business climate remains a serious obstacle..
However, the presenter of the radio station Echo of Moscow, Alexander Plyushchev, who has covered the topic of Internet freedom in Russia for many years, believes that the supporters of the bill are not concerned about security, the commercial side, or censorship. He is convinced that the main goal of the bill is money, and the government contractors who will build the system will receive the most benefits from the creation of a sovereign Internet..