MOSCOW -- A law establishing a government blacklist of websites containing "illegal" content, and requiring Internet service providers to block them, is working its way through the Russian State Duma. The authorities say the law is necessary to combat pedophilia and child pornography on the Internet.
But opponents say it will be used to suppress opposition activity online and the Russian version of Wikipedia has temporarily shut down its site
in protest of the legislation.
Popular Russian blogger and political analyst Anton Nosik (aka Nossik) spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Tom Balmforth about why online activists oppose the legislation.
RFE/RL: Many activists believe that the new Internet legislation currently being debated in the State Duma, if eventually passed and signed into law, could pave the way for Internet censorship. Do you agree?
Yes, without a doubt. Without a doubt because the procedure for limiting access to various kinds of information already exists in Russian law....
This law establishes the tyranny of some kind of organization, which has not yet been legally defined. That is to say, that someone on the basis of some kind of unclear grounds will make decisions as to whether this or that resource has done something that is forbidden.
What's more, [Internet protocol, IP] addresses are allowed to be blocked according to the law. If you block one IP address, considerably more than one website ends up blocked.
In general, a certain arbitrariness can be exhibited without explanation and without the possibility of appeal. Instead of a reasonable procedure we get arbitrariness and volunteerism.
RFE/RL: Nonetheless, the ruling United Russia party says that the legislation is designed to combat child pornography. Isn't it reasonable to be fighting problems like this? Isn't there are a need for greater regulation on the Internet?
No additional law whatsoever is needed to block sites that display child pornography. Even today, the Communications Ministry can instruct telecoms operators to block these kinds of sites on the basis of [existing] law. They are lying.
RFE/RL: Why are they lying?
What we are talking about is the expansion of filtering methods to include an unlimited and uncontrolled expansion of the list of websites to be blocked -- this can be guidebook literature, art literature, medical literature. A large quantity of different sites can become exposed to these limitations without reason."
RFE/RL: Wikipedia says that the amendments could lead to its Russian version being made inaccessible. Do you agree?
Yes, this is true. The bill in the form that it exists today gives grounds for abuse without limitations.
RFE/RL: If the authorities really are trying to impose censorship on the Internet, then why didn't they do this earlier?
They never had this aim in the past. All initiatives like this were abandoned in their initial stages. There were many in the last 12 years, but they nonetheless were all abandoned.
RFE/RL: Do you think these amendments signal a first step toward the implementation of China-style Internet control of the Russian Internet?
I haven't seen this bill yet in the second reading. Moreover, I haven't seen it passed, so I don't have any grounds to speculate. This bill is bad, but it hasn't been passed yet.