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Russia Seeks Information From Network Providers Ahead Of Sovereign Internet Launch

Russians rally for Internet freedom in Moscow on March 10.
Russians rally for Internet freedom in Moscow on March 10.

Russia's communications watchdog has instructed Internet service providers in several regions to provide operational information as it prepares for the November launch of a law allowing Russia to isolate the country’s Internet from the rest of the world.

Roskomnadzor said in a statement dated June 26 that work has begun to gather "necessary information" from web providers across Russia in order to aid the launch of a monitoring system encompassing the country's web traffic.

"Monitoring the resources of public communications networks, and their maintenance, will allow communications providers to urgently take necessary action to remove threats to the integrity of the Runet," the statement said, referring to the Russian segment of the World Wide Web.

It did not specify what information was being gathered from providers.

But in a letter dated June 25 and addressed to providers in the St. Petersburg area, a copy of which was posted on the Russian messaging app Telegram by IT specialist Filipp Kulin, Roskomnadzor asks the companies to provide information about physical Internet exchange points that they and network operators use to exchange Internet traffic.

Kulin, who co-founded Usher II, a project which monitors government censorship online, wrote in comments accompanying the post that he had seen similar letters from Roskomnadzor's branches in Moscow and Tomsk, a city in Siberia.

The latest measures to centralize information gathering are part of a push by the Russian government to prepare for the introduction on November 1 of the so-called "sovereign Internet" law, which has been criticized by rights activists and dismissed as unrealistic by some IT experts.

In May, the Communications Ministry specified the kinds of threats that may necessitate isolation of the country's Internet, the first time the government had clarified the controversial legislation.

It listed three types of threats which could lead Roskomnadzor to decouple the Russian segment of the web.

These include a threat to the network's "integrity," explained as the ability to safeguard connections between users; a threat to its resilience through the failure of certain equipment or the occurrence of a natural disaster; and a threat to the network's security, via a hacking attack on service providers' equipment or any instance when the network is subjected to "destabilizing internal or external informational pressure."

The latest effort to get service providers on board comes amid widespread confusion over the legislation, which will essentially centralize the Russian Internet under Roskomnadzor and require Internet providers to install equipment to route Russian web traffic through servers inside the country.

Critics have warned that the new law will lead to censorship over wide parts of the Internet and allow for greater surveillance by Russian intelligence agencies.

Many view it as part of an ambitious government campaign to bring the Internet to heel at a time when the Kremlin is becoming increasingly aware of the web's power to incite protest and civil disobedience.

Russian officials have defended the legislation as a protective measure in the event the United States was to disable Russia's Internet.

The law stipulates that if Russia were to perceive threats to its online security, Roskomnadzor could essentially seize control of its Internet without giving prior notice to providers and assume the prerogative to filter all web traffic in the country.