Written by: Alex Popa
Last February, the Russian Parliament proposed a law that would force all ISPs to “completely disconnect” from the outside internet. Whatever that meant, we weren’t sure at that time. And we hoped it would stay a proposal.
The Russian officials said this law would help protect the country and its citizens from any foreign aggression and “be able to route all traffic internally”. This proposal was part of a bigger whole called the Digital Economy National Program which the Russian Parliament convened about.
However, now it seems that this proposal has exited the realms of theory and hypotheses, and forced its way into the lives of all the Russian population.
Vladimir Putin himself signed the law that would amplify the government’s influence and control over the internet. Implicitly, the population would have yet another reason to fear censorship.
This legislation won’t result in the definitive disconnection of Russia from the outside internet, at least not right now. It will be widespread over a large period of time, moving at a slow pace.
The law states that all Russian ISPs will have to stop using foreign servers to route internet traffic. In the place of these servers, they will have to install the required infrastructure to route the internet traffic through Russian servers.
Those who support the law are all saying that it would act as a defense measure against the threats of the US or other threats that would seek to cut off the internet for Russia.
Hidden behind this apparently noble aspiration and populist propaganda lies the monster itself – massive censorship akin to North Korea’s private internet network. Everything will be strictly supervised, kept under clear surveillance by the Russian government.
These Russian servers that are to receive and emit the internet traffic would be overseen by the Roskomnazor, the main censorship body that deals with the control and censoring of any irregular online activities.
No Russian citizen will ever feel free after the enactment of this law. Because their freedom has been inhibited, rightly speaking.
The Russian authorities would receive a massive boost of control over the internet activities of the citizens which, truth be told, are already under strict surveillance. It’s still not clear if this newly-gained control will further censorship, but the probabilities are high. Too high.
This type of intranet would give the authorities the ability to inspect, block off or control any type of traffic, and check whether it’s routed outside of Russia. If it reminds you of the Great Firewall of China, that’s because it’s entirely similar.
It has an even greater potential of censorship because Russia would be able to maintain a private and permanent internet connection even if it disconnects from the rest of the world. The isolated intranet network ensures this.
The Russian intranet is called Runet. Russian Internet – Runet. Get it?
Well, the idea is that a local DNS backup has already been done to ensure that, even if their test ends up disconnecting all of Russia from the internet, they would still be able to access some of the sites hosted on Runet.
The Russian telecoms were quite keen on finding out what would happen if they tested this idea, whether they’d destroy their connection to the rest of the world, or if it worked wonders. The word is, all Russian ISPs willingly agreed to this test because it’s such a great idea.
What happens after they manage to reroute all the internet traffic through the inside servers doesn’t leave too much for the imagination. Censorship will most probably increase because the government would grow in strength and get to encroach even more on the private lives of the citizens.
And we all know what happens when a government grows in strength. It starts reducing the personal freedom of its citizens, some human rights are broken here and there, a tiny bit of oppression.
The motivation appears to be entirely trustworthy and noble if you think about it. No, actually, if you don’t think about it. Upon further analysis, you realize it’s most probably a fluke to cover for the real goal – increase the government’s power and influence.
It does make a lot of sense if you think about it. Even if that wasn’t the reason why they adopted it, the results will still be the same. Russian citizens will be even more closely surveilled, their online activities encroached upon, and the ISPs will be able to dictate what is and what is not permitted.
The threat of this becoming a reality is as real as it can get. It might act as a safety guarantor in the face of all potential dangers from the outside, and it does offer a safety net for Russia in case of country-wide internet disconnection, but the question remains – is it worth it?
It seems like a good backup plan to have just in case something bad happens. And, generally, being prepared wins half the battle, but one can’t stop thinking about the implications here.
Namely, that the government extends its tentacles ever so closer, grasping stronger at the feeble freedoms of its citizens.
Perhaps the time is coming ever closer when even some Western countries start doing the same. Wait, this did happen. Remember the UK porn ban? The results are the same – the government gains more power.
We’ll see what happens in the future, and how this law will affect the state of the country. Whether it will further the already implemented nation-wide censorship remains to be seen.