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More censorship and totalitarianism coming to Russia

Russia is clearly heading into the same direction as China when it comes to control of the Internet, censorship and totalitarianism. Putin recently signed two bills into law giving the government even more power to enforce censorship. Here’s from The Moscow Times:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a controversial set of bills that make it a crime to “disrespect” the state and spread “fake news” online, Russian media reported on Monday.

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Online news outlets and users that spread “fake news” will face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($22,900) for repeat offenses.

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.” Putin Signs ‘Fake News,’ ‘Internet Insults’ Bills Into Law

Ars Technica further reports:

Now, however, the Russian government has “essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable. One consequence may be to make it nearly impossible for individuals or groups to call for public protest activity against any action taken by the state.”

The Russian government has steadily tightened its grip over the Russian Internet, The Moscow Times notes. “Tougher Internet laws introduced over the past five years require search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store users’ personal data on servers within the country.” Vladimir Putin signs sweeping Internet-censorship bills

As usual with such laws, what constitutes “disrespect” and “fake news” is left vague and subjective, and the criminal government will have the final say.

Note that they’ve also required communications platforms on the Internet to share encryption keys so that they can monitor all communications. So if you thought you’d be able to circumvent those “disrespect” and “fake news” laws by using encrypted communications, it’s not going to be easy. For example, not only have they blocked the instant messaging platform Telegram, but they’ve recently also blocked the encrypted email service ProtonMail:

Russia’s Roskomnadzor watchdog began blocking Telegram on Monday after it refused to hand over its encryption keys. Roskomnadzor’s head Alexander Zharov said it had blocked 18 sub-networks and a significant number of IP-addresses belonging to Google and Amazon. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov called for “digital resistance”, saying he was prepared to give out millions of dollars worth of grants in bitcoin digital currency to individuals and companies that run proxies and VPNs to support internet freedom. Russia blocks Google, Amazon IP addresses in bid to ban Telegram

The Russian Federal Security Service just ordered internet providers to block several internet addresses, including servers for the encrypted email service ProtonMail and some of the connections necessary to run the censorship-dodging browser Tor.

The internet service providers complied, and while Russian ProtonMail users can currently access their inbox, they can neither send nor receive messages through the service, according to TechCrunch — a worrisome escalation of the Russian government’s war on privacy. Russia Blocks Access to ProtonMail

Centralized communication platforms remain vulnerable to governments and other comparable terrorist organizations. Again we see the urgent need to move to decentralized and fully peer-to-peer (P2P) communications platforms.

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