|In the Photo: Russia's President Vladimir Putin / Photo by: kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons|
President Vladimir Putin has signed into law the amendments proposed by the Russian Federal Assembly to reinforce state regulation over the internet.
The new law is primarily aimed at prohibiting the use of virtual private networks (VPN), or better known as internet proxy services. These networks allow internet users to gain access to websites and other internet content that have been blocked by the government and surf the web anonymously. Also, the law will require online messaging services to connect users through their phone numbers. Users engaged in disseminating “illegal information” will be banned.
The proposed measure was introduced and passed in the State Duma last July 21. Thereafter, it was transmitted to the Federation Council, which approved the same on July 25.
According to Leonid Levin, head of the State Duma’s committee for information policy, the measure does not provide any fines or sanctions for users. Rather, it will be the operators of internet messenger functions that will face fines. He clarified that the law does not seek to impose restrictions on free internet usage on the part of law-abiding citizens. Instead, the law seeks to block access to any internet content that the state deems unlawful.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report early this month in response to the legislative measure. According to the report, the Russian government has been trying to suppress political dissent through the internet with the introduction of “invasive surveillance,” all under the guise of preventing the proliferation of extremist materials and ideas. The report likewise condemned the Russian officials’ recent actions of illegally detaining dozens of internet users for online content which they arbitrarily deem as based on extremist beliefs.
Putin’s approval of the proposed amendments no longer came as a surprise. Last May, the Russian president issued an executive order which creates a state policy that will establish stricter government regulation on the internet.