Freedom Of Digital Information Under Threat In Russia

fibreoptic460x276.jpgWe all know that Russia has a reputation for being an expert in cybercrime, from everyday garden variety piracy through to high-level cyberattacks (about which, according to recent reports, NATO should be concerned).  In Forbes today, Andy Greenberg looks at the new findings of a book called ‘Access Controlled’, written by a consortium of academics focused on free speech and government interactions with the Internet.  The book, he says, suggests that Russia is employing a plethora of tactics to control the dissemination of information through the internet:

But while states like Russia and Belarus perform much less of what the ONI calls “first generation” or “Chinese-style” filtering, they’re increasingly adept at “second and third generation” control of the Web.

“Second generation” censorship, as ONI authors Ronald Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski define it in an early chapter, includes tricks like requiring Web site owners to register with the government and using the process to weed out dissident sites with red tape, a tactic often used in Kazakhstan and Belarus. In Belarus and Uzbekistan, “veracity” and slander laws are used as a pretense for shutting down dissident sites.

Public safety and security have also been used as excuses to block sites at moments of political importance, such as the censoring of the BBC in Armenia’s 2008 elections, ostensibly aimed at preventing violence in local demonstrations. Or countries will use distributed denial of service attacks to flood sites with data requests and shut them down at key moments, what the ONI coins “just-in-time” censorship.

Third generation” tactics manipulate the Web in more subtle ways yet.Developed largely in Russia according to the researchers, they oftenco-opt the Internet as a tool to promote rather than fight government.

In 2008 for instance, Russia tightened the laws requiring ISPs todeploy equipment that tracks users’ online activities, increasing theRussian Web’s power to identify, track and punish dissidents. The ONIsays that Russia has also deployed “Internet brigades” of users to postdisinformation and propaganda, or to threaten and intimidate oppositiongroups.

In one case, protestors were warned via cell phone messages that ifthey participated in a rally they would be assaulted. In another,dissidents were led by online disinformation into an “ambush” byviolent pro-government forces.

Meanwhile Paul Goble has published an article examining the phenomenon of the ‘information blockade’ where citizens’ limited access to the internet means that information about any political event, in this case the miners’ protests, is entirely dictated by Kremlin-controlled sources such as the television:

Since the OMON clashes with the miners, the paper observes, “the federal television channels have practically ignored the protests of the miners,” leaving most Russians with little or no reliable information about them, especially since “only 38 percent of Russians” have a personal computer linked to the Internet.
(For a more detailed and extensive discussion of the information blockade Moscow and the regional government have imposed on Mezhdurechensk, see the article by Taras Burmistrov at and especially the commentary by Marina Litvinovich at

But even those who do, the paper continues, precisely because they were “educated by television are not prepared for the variations of information which the Net guarantees.” (Indeed, another analyst continues, differing reports on the web often cancel each other out, leaving people with little or no information at all (