MN: The Russian authorities are learning how to control the Internet

The following is a translation of an article published by the Moscow News.

A Case of Disconnect – The Russian authorities are learning how to control the Internet

The Government is to study foreign methods of Internet governance

The authorities are planning a fresh attack on the Internet. This became clear after the completion of a tender for a contract to study the experiences of foreign governments in the “regulation of the legal responsibility of Internet users”.  The government ordered the study in April on the instructions of the presidential administration. While more than ten organisations took part in the tender, the winning organisation, who are directly subordinate to the cabinet of ministers, was the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Jurisprudence under the Government (IZiSP).

The contract with the institute was concluded in early July. The price of the contract to study foreign techniques of prosecuting non-law-abiding Internet users was 973 thousand roubles. More than a dozen legal organisations competed to win the tender. Among the candidates were, for example, the autonomous non-profit organization ‘Internet and Law’ and the law firm ‘Yegorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev and Partners’.

It is noteworthy that the authoritative Russian Association of Electronic Communications and the Kutafin Moscow State Law Academy were not permitted to take part. IZiSP offered its services for 490 thousand roubles and won the contract.

However, from the beginning, the government set the maximum specific framework for analysts. IZiSP specialists have to define the limits of liability of the “legal participants in the network.” The study will focus on the legislation of the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Kazakhstan, Belarus and China; that is, countries with diametrically opposed views on permitted Internet freedom.

Russian officials, in particular, are interested in what will be regarded as an offence when uploading information, the establishment of a right to block or suspend access to the Internet, to whom that right will be granted, and under what conditions. A study is required on the suspension of websites that spread information which is prohibited under “national legislation”, including the requirement to uphold “information security.” How to block sites that are on foreign servers, and who to hold responsible, as well as the degree of accountability, are all of great interest to  government officials.

The content of the technological study  has already sparked discontent among bloggers and human rights defenders. They resent the presence of Kazakhstan, Belarus and China in the study, as these are countries that regularly appear in last place in rankings, freezing the degree of Internet freedom. And though the press secretary of Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Peskov in April, insisted that fears of an imminent arrival of censorship in Runet (Russian Internet) are unfounded, human rights activists are standing their ground. “It can be assumed that the analysis will be conducted from a governmental point of view, as IZiSP is a structure under control of the government and will obviously be focused on government regulation,” an official from the human rights association ‘Agora’, Damir Gainutdinov,  told ‘MN’. He seems suspicious of the fact that the government and presidential administration are interested in issues that relate solely to the accountability of users and Internet resources, as well as blocking access to information and the closure of sites. “Where are the guarantees to the freedom of speech, the right to information and the freedom of access to the Internet?” asks the human rights activist. “Agora” intends to conduct its own study of foreign experiences in the regulation of the Internet according to the director of the association Pavel Pins.

The results of the tender have also raised questions among those who took part. According to a representative of one of the organisations that competed for the contract, it is a fact that some people in power have a very personal interest in the Internet. The results of the contest has spurred a lot of questions, after all, it was an Institute about whose activities little is known who won the tender.

The well-known blogger and media manager Anton Nosik believes that the creation of Internet legislation is necessary, as is learning from foreign experience. “The most odious and contradictory part of the technological study is the references to Kazakhstan and Belarus. It’s like Sberbank sending their employees to go study in Zimbabwe. But I do not see anything wrong with studying the international experience [of Internet regulation] . It would be much worse if we had announced the creation of a sovereign legal system.” he told “MN”.