Just one week after the Human Rights Council reaffirmed in a resolution that the guarantee of freedom of expression contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies with full force to the Internet, Russia is threatening to move in the opposite direction. Reports indicate that Russia is actively considering legislation, Duma Bill 89417-6, that would create a unified “blacklist” of government-banned websites. We don’t have all the details at this time, but reports suggest that a variety of entities, from ISPs to web hosts, might be required to take action to block access to the blacklisted sites, under threat of liability or even being added to the blacklist itself. Reminiscent of the uprising against SOPA/PIPA in the United States, Russian Wikipedia, LiveJournal and other sites today are staging protests on their services ahead of a key vote on the legislation tomorrow. Russian journalists, lawyers, and bloggers have also criticized the proposal as vague and potentially enabling abuse that could sweep in lawful expression and restrict access to online communications tools.
It’s hard to overstate how troubling this is for free expression—so troubling, in fact, that Russia’s own Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights characterizes the proposal as “the introduction of real censorship” on the Russian segment of the Internet, and also observes that it will significantly impair the network’s speed and reliability. As CDT has described in connection with previous proposals in the United States, from Pennsylvania’s ill-fated state-level website blocking statute to the recent battle over SOPA and PIPA in Congress, government-mandated website blocking is inevitably overbroad, impairing lawful expression along with the unlawful; carries significant costs for the technical operation of the Internet; may undermine user privacy; and isn’t even effective at achieving its stated aims.
The Russian Parliament should take note: this is a dangerous proposal that needs to be stopped in its tracks. We at CDT stand in solidarity with those in Russia who are speaking out against this bill, and urge others who support net freedom—including the signatories to the Declaration of Internet Freedom released last week—to do the same.
In what has been reported as a process with “next to no debate or public discussion,” the Russian parliament passed Duma Bill 89417-6 today. According to RIA Novosti, the bill is expected to enter the upper house for a vote and could become law in January.