Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russia enacted a controversial new law on Friday calling for the creation of a domestic Internet network that would enable the country to disconnect from the world wide web.
The Kremlin has promoted the legislation as an important cybersecurity measure, but critics argue that its real aim is to tighten the government’s control over the Internet.
The “Sovereign Internet” law seeks to establish a national domain name system (DNS) that would allow for the Russian Internet to continue working even if Russia is cut off from the global web. It also mandates that all of the country’s Internet traffic and data pass through state-controlled exchange points.
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state telecommunications watchdog, will be responsible for monitoring Internet traffic to block banned content and limit the “transfer abroad of data exchanged between Russian users.”
On October 22, the government announced it would begin testing its ability to disconnect from the world wide web once the law comes took effect this month. Tests will occur at least once a year on the federal and regional level.
Yandex and Mail.ru, two of the country’s largest tech companies, have voiced support for the initiative.
Russian lawmakers introduced the bill in February and President Vladimir Putin signed it into law in May, with a November 1 implementation date. An explanatory note attached to the bill describes it as a necessary defensive measure against the “aggressive” U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy adopted in 2018, which it claims signaled Washington’s intention to threaten Russia’s access to the Internet.
“Under these conditions, protective measures are necessary for ensuring the long term and stable functioning of the Internet in Russia, increasing the reliability of Russian Internet resources,” the legislation states.
The 2018 U.S. strategy named Russia as one of the countries which had “conducted reckless cyber-attacks that harmed American and international businesses and our allies and partners without paying costs likely to deter future cyber aggression."
But critics of the Russian law insist that expanding censorship, not strengthening cybersecurity, is its actual objective.
A poll from state-funded pollster VTSIOM earlier this year found that a majority of Russian opposed the bill, and after it was introduced, thousands of protestors in Moscow and several other cities rallied against it.
The legislation takes effect at a time when the Russian government is increasingly regulating online behavior. Last March the State Duma adopted a law which imposed fines and potentially jail time for disrespecting the government authorities on the Internet. The popular messenger app Telegram was banned in Russia last year after refusing to share its users’ data with the security services.
More recently, Russia and China signed a deal last month to work together on combating illegal content online. China has long limited citizens’ access to the world wide web through the “Great Firewall,” which allows the communist authorities to block many popular websites such as Google and Facebook.