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Russian Duma Approves Sovereign-Internet Bill

People attend an opposition rally in Moscow against the bill on sovereign RuNet and censorship on the Internet on March 10.
People attend an opposition rally in Moscow against the bill on sovereign RuNet and censorship on the Internet on March 10.

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

In a 307 to 68 vote on April 16, lawmakers in the State Duma gave their final approval to the legislation that critics fear could herald a new era of widespread censorship.

The bill now heads to the upper house, the Federation Council, which is expected to approve it and send it to Putin for his signature.

The so-called "sovereign Internet" bill would require providers to install equipment that could route Russian web traffic 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 will deal a major blow to Internet freedom in Russia. The proposed move sparked protests of several thousand people in Moscow last month.

The equipment that the bill requires to be installed would make it easier for the government to block websites it has banned.

Last week, the chief of Russian 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 to protest Kremlin efforts to silence the messaging app.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and Meduza

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