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Russia's 'Sovereign Internet' Bill Moves Forward In State Duma

Demonstrators at an opposition rally in Moscow last month protest against the bill about sovereign RuNet and censorship on the Internet.
Demonstrators at an opposition rally in Moscow last month protest against the bill about sovereign RuNet and censorship on the Internet.

The lower chamber of Russia's parliament has passed in the second of three votes a controversial bill that critics say is part of efforts by President Vladimir Putin to expand government control over the Internet.

Lawmakers in the State Duma on April 11 voted 320 to 15 to pass the proposed legislation that critics fear could herald a new era of widespread censorship.

The second reading is when amendments are finalized. The bill must pass a third reading and the upper house before being signed into law by Putin.

The so-called "sovereign Internet" bill would require Russian web traffic and data to be rerouted through points controlled by the state, and for the creation of a domestic domain-name system.

Backers of the bill say it will make what they call the Russian segment of the Internet -- known as the RuNet -- more independent. They argue it is needed to guard Russia against potential cyberattacks.

Critics say the bill would deal a serious blow to Internet freedom in Russia. The proposed move sparked protests of several thousand people in Moscow last month.

The legislation would require the installation of specialized equipment that would make it easier to block websites banned by the government with greater efficiency.

Earlier this week, the chief of Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, said the bill would in fact target a popular messaging app.

Aleksandr Zharov told the TASS news agency on April 9 that the bill "prevents the spread of banned information."

"It's obvious that one of the elements of this prevention will be fighting against" online resources including the Telegram messaging app, Zharov was quoted as saying.

At least four online news outlets, including the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily, deleted his remarks, according to a Telegram channel monitoring efforts by Roskomnadzor to block the messaging app.

In April 2018, Russia blocked Telegram after the popular messaging app refused to comply with a Russian court order to give security services access to users' encrypted messages.

Amnesty International said that blocking Telegram -- used by senior government officials and Kremlin foes alike -- would be "the latest in a series of attacks on online freedom of expression" in Russia.

Many Russians took to the streets a year ago to protest Kremlin efforts to silence the messaging app.

Russians Protest Effort To Block Telegram Messaging App
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With reporting by The Moscow Times, Reuters, and Interfax
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