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Agora presents annual report 'Internet Freedom 2015: Triumph of Censorship'

16.03.2016
The present report, which sets out an overview of the restrictions imposed on freedom of Internet in Russia, has been compiled on the basis of the ongoing monitoring of the events and developments that occurred during 2015. It comprises two main sections – the first containing the author’s appraisal of the freedom of Internet and the second – a description of the results of the monitoring along with certain telling examples.

Agora presents annual report 'Internet Freedom 2015: Triumph of Censorship'
Agora presents annual report 'Internet Freedom 2015: Triumph of Censorship'

Summary

In 2015, the conflict between the State and users that had been seething during the last three to four years, came to a head. Users and IT-businesses being forced to choose between total humility and fighting for their rights and interests, gradually are becoming more aware of the possibilities available to them and starting to learn.

The authorities, on their part, keep up the effort to take the upper hand by altering the areas of regulation. Largely by reason of inertia, content filtering and blocking remain the main means of public policy regarding the Internet as evidenced by the dramatic increase in the number of individual acts of censorship. Despite this, they are largely regarded as an ineffective method, but still used by prosecutor’s office, Roskomnadzor and other agencies which are trying to demonstrate their activity and a need for more funding.

In parallel, the list of involved agencies has continued to expand. Thus, in the summer of 2014 the Federal Tax Service received extrajudicial powers to block online gambling websites and promptly began to actively exercise them. Other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Federal Service on Control the Alcohol Market are also seeking to obtain rights to block websites on which rare animals are offered for sale and alcohol is sold online, respectively.

Yet against the backdrop of the economic crisis and attending austerity and downsizing, which, for example, affected Roskomnadzor68, pressure on employees will continue to mount and the quality of their work (and thus retaining at least a semblance of legality) — to deteriorate.

Apparently, the government is aware of the failure of its efforts to suppress the dissemination of information and thus pressure is currently being shifted onto users. The effective prison sentences handed down for liking and sharing information published on social media aim to intimidate users and deter them from discussing sensitive social problems. The topics that present a particularly high risk in this regard include, inter alia annexation of Crimea, Russian military manoeuvres in Eastern Ukraine, religion, LGBTI, corruption, and anti-government protests.

Another noteworthy development is the high level of violence against online activists and the growing number of provinces where violence is used as an instrument of pressure on Internet users. In this respect, Chechnya is a case in point. The online activity of Ramzan Kadyrov is a rare phenomenon that will undoubtedly spark the interest of researchers. Enthusiasm for social networks, gaining popularity among Internet users, growing attention paid to his image among them and his status as one of the most prominent representatives of the Russian blogosphere has matched with Kadyrov’s lifestyle, previous experience and outlook of the current Head of the Chechen Republic. What we see as a result is Kadyrov’s hyperactive online presence seeking to demonstrate subservient loyalty to Vladimir Putin, including by means of threats of violence and abuse, open hostility to opposition, and vehement enmity toward civic activists critical of his stance. Tacit encouragement of such behavior on the part of the Kremlin emphasizes the dangerous idea of impunity for government officials who use hate speech.

In late December, at a meeting with representatives of the IT industry held within the framework of the Internet Economy Forum, Herman Klimenko, a businessman of a strongly conservative persuasion69 and owner of LiveInternet, volunteered to become President Putin’s adviser on issues relating to the Internet. Earlier Klimenko had proposed to ban foreign social networks in Russia and to block Telegram, if it refuse to provide security services with backdoors and generally strengthen the control over the Internet.

After the forum Putin gave orders to a number of government agencies. In particular, the Federal Security Service, the General Prosecutor's Office, Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Communications were instructed to submit, not later than June 1st 2016, proposals for the monitoring of information threats and draft amendments to legislation on personal data protection and formulate the requirements for encryption, including the determination of responsibility for breach of the new rules to be put in place.

A few days ago, the Ministry of Communications announced that it has drafted a Bill seeking to establish total control over Internet traffic and creating an alternative DNS registry with a special focus on cross-border communication channels70.

The government firmly considers the Internet a priority area for regulation and believes that it is able to establish control using a model similar to that employed by China. This means that in the very near future citizens may have to face limited access to outside services and tightening of prosecutions for expressing their opinions online.

These developments are taking place against the backdrop of ever higher rates of Internet penetration, including among older Russian citizens, higher technical literacy of users and active exploration of ways to circumvent censorship and a new culture of safe communications gaining traction by means of using secure instant messenger applications, e-mail providers and browsers, lock bypass functions or anonymous surfing, and the continued migration of users to foreign services – social networks, email providers, web hosting, domain name registrars, etc. Users are clearly prepared to resist censorship and defend their right to access to information.


Documents for download

Full version of Agora's report download (0.47 Mb)
Map of Restrictions of Internet Freedom 2015 (Russia) download (0.83 Mb)



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Agora presents annual report 'Internet Freedom 2015: Triumph of Censorship' 16.03.2016 The present report, which sets out an overview of the restrictions imposed on freedom of Internet in Russia, has been compiled on the basis of the ongoing monitoring of the events and developments that occurred during 2015. It comprises two main sections – the first containing the author’s appraisal of the freedom of Internet and the second – a description of the results of the monitoring along with certain telling examples.

Lawyers

More than 50 lawyers work for Agora International Human Rights Group
Irina Khrunova
Lawyer, Moscow - Kazan
Andrey  Lepehin
Andrey Lepehin
Lawyer, Chelyabinsk
Vitaliy Cherkasov
Vitaliy Cherkasov
Lawyer, St. Petersburg
Ilnur Sharapov
Ilnur Sharapov
Lawyer, Moscow
Sergey Petryakov
Sergey Petryakov
Lawyer, Kazan - Cheboksary


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