Russian politicians have voted for tight new internet requirements which could see state authorities exercise powerful controls over web content.
If enacted, the law would force Russian web traffic to be routed through systems controlled by the government – prompting fears the Kremlin may use the surveillance and censorship capability to stifle criticism.
The bill proposes building a domestic domain name system (DNS) which would allow Russian internet users to continue to connect to sites based in Russia if they were disconnected from the outside world.
While such a disconnection could potentially be brought by the US, it might also be initiated by the Russian government, which has sought to develop a “sovereign” internet free from foreign influence.
According to reports, the Kremlin is aiming to test making such a disconnection before the end of March, although no date has been published.
The legislation is expected to be passed in its entirety, paving the way for it to be signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It was drafted following the publication of the US national cyber security strategy last year, which pledged to: “Expand American influence abroad to extend the key tenets of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet.”
The notion of an open internet is significantly challenged by the bill in Russia, which follows the development of similar surveillance and monitoring systems in place in China, though the so-called great firewall, and in Iran, where the clerical regime has developed a so-called “halal” internet.
Russia and China signed a cyber security pact in 2015 which stressed the concept of “cyber sovereignty” in which their respective governments could control and monitor everything that their citizens’ had access to online.
Russian state authorities have regularly expressed hostility towards Western platforms which allow citizens to explore material outside of their control.
The communications regulator Roskomnadzor has sent repeated requests to Google requiring it to route its citizens’ web searches through a government filtering system, although Google has so far refused to comply and instead offers to delete offending results manually.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has been accused of exploiting Western web platforms to spread disinformation, including in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election in the US.
This was a driving factor in the construction of the US national cyber security strategy, and regulators in the West have criticised web platforms for facilitating Russian-based disinformation campaigns.
In January, Facebook removed 364 pages and accounts linked to employees of Russian news agency Sputnik from its platform.
Last February, an indictment was filed in the US against 13 employees of a Russian troll factory which is accused of illegal election interference.
The Russian government denies the allegations.
(c) Sky News 2019: Russian politicians vote for tight new internet controls