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Russian Duma Passes Bill Tightening Internet Restrictions

The Russian parliament's lower house has passed a bill that would prohibit the use of Internet proxy services including virtual private networks, or VPNs.

The bill, approved in its third and final reading in the State Duma on July 21, would also ban the anonymous use of mobile messaging services.

Lawmakers who promoted the bill cited what they said was the need to prevent the spread of extremist material and ideas -- a justification critics say President Vladimir Putin's government often uses to seek to suppress dissent and the expression of ideas.

The bill faces a single vote in the upper house before going to Putin -- who rarely rejects legislation adopted by the Kremlin-controlled legislature.

It would take effect on January 1, 2018, less than three months before a presidential election in which Putin is widely expected to seek and secure a new six-year term.

Under the bill, Internet providers would be ordered to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services, which Russians frequently use to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad.

It would force messenger apps to verify users through their phone numbers and to send out compulsory text messages from government agencies on request.

Putin reined in the Russian broadcast media early in his more than 17 years in power but has repeatedly said that it is pointless to try to control the Internet, which has become a crucial platform for government criticism.

However, opponents accuse his government of increasingly trying to do just that.

In recent years, Russia has sought to make Internet companies store privacy data on Russian servers and taken other measures critics say restrict Internet freedoms.

With reporting by AP,, RIA, Interfax, and TASS
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