Russia officially introduced a 'sovereign internet' law to let Putin cut the entire country from the rest of the web

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference following their talks in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS Russian President Putin meets with Turkish President Erdogan in SochiReuters

  • A new "sovereign internet" law came into force in Russia on Friday.
  • The law will allow the government to cut the entire country's internet off from the rest of the worldwide web, ostensibly to protect the country from cyberattacks.
  • It requires Russian internet providers to install hardware to allow authorities to locate the source of traffic and block it.
  • Critics say President Vladimir Putin could now censor and close the internet from the rest of the world, like in China.
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A new Russian law allowing President Vladimir Putin's government to cut the entire country from the rest of the web has officially come into effect.

The "sovereign internet" law, which came into force Friday, allows the government to switch off the country's internet in the face of a cyberattack, as well as locate and block web traffic.

Here's what's in the law:
  • Russian internet service providers (ISPs) are now required to install "deep package inspection" (DPI) tools within the country, which are equipment that allow providers to locate the source of web traffic, and reroute and block them if needed.
  • It also requires ISPs to route the country's web traffic and information through state-controlled exchange points - thus creating its own version of the domain-name system, the directory of web domains and addresses.
  • Under this system, the government will also have the power to switch off all internet connections to other countries in an emergency, the BBC reported, citing the law's text.

A Kremlin spokesman said users would not notice any change in their online activities.

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The new DPI requirements would also give Russia's telecommunications watchdog more power to block sites and content deemed to be security threats, the BBC reported.

However, Russian authorities have given a vague definition of security threats, which paves the way for them to indiscriminately block content, Human Rights Watch said in a Thursday press release.

"Blocking can range from a single message or post to an ongoing network shutdown, including cutting Russia off from the World Wide Web or shutting down connectivity within Russia," the activist group said.

Massive protests erupted in Russia after the country first announced the law in February. Putin approved it in May.

russia protest putin internetA rally protesting against tightening state control over the internet in Moscow, Russia, in March 2019.Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Kremlin officials argue that the new system will help protect Russia's internet in the face of a cyberattack.

"It's more about creating a reliable internet that will continue to work in the event of external influences, such as a massive hacker attack," Russian Committee on Informational Policy chairman Leonid Levin told a conference earlier this week, according to The Moscow Times.

Russia announced earlier this year that it plans to disconnect the entire country from the global internet to test the strength of its alternative system. So far this hasn't happened yet.

The Moscow Times reported that Russia had been testing new DPI technology in the western Ural region since September, but that neither internet nor state authorities have commented on the trials yet.

The outlet also cited the investigative Novaya Gazeta newspaper as reporting in October that the trials were unsuccessful, with many internet users able to bypass the traffic-monitoring technology.

kremlinThe Kremlin is pictured above in Moscow on March 7, 2017.Spencer Platt/Getty

Critics warn, however, that Putin's new internet rules would allow him to create his own version of China's "Great Firewall" system, where the internet is highly censored and often used to spy on Communist Party critics.

"Now the government can directly censor content or even turn Russia's internet into a closed system without telling the public what they are doing or why," Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a Thursday statement.

This jeopardizes the right of people in Russia to free speech and freedom of information online."

Russia has proven adept at perpetrating cyberattacks too.

Last month, a joint UK-US investigation found that Russian cyberspies linked to the country's intelligence agencies had hacked Iranian hackers to attack government organizations, military units, and universities in more than 35 countries.

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