New Russian Law Looks to Crack Down on Internet

On a recent visit to America, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent his first tweet, chatted to Steve Jobs about the iPhone, and tried to talk Cisco into investing in a new "innovation city" near Moscow. But at home in Russia the Internet is under attack. There are disturbing signs that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is preparing a new crackdown on the Web, the one medium not under tight government control. A law currently before the Duma would give the FSB and prosecutors the most sweeping powers they have had since the fall of the Soviet Union, from censoring Internet sites to arresting people for "obstructing investigations." The draconian new law is in the name of fighting "extremism"—defined as anything "undermining the authority of state officials" or "insulting the honor of the Russian nation." Internet service providers must shut down offending Web sites within three days of receiving a complaint from the FSB, and the burden of proof will be on the sites to disprove extremism charges.

The new law comes as a nasty shock to those who believed Medvedev's promises to make Russia more free. In June the president told Russian and foreign investors at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that "Russia has changed," and mentioned the Internet as playing "a vital role in our nation's future." With Russia recently ranked a miserable 175 out of 196 countries for global press freedom by the Washington-based Freedom House, the vibrant Russian blogosphere and a host of world-class Russian news sites were the best hope for an improvement in free speech. Not, it seems, if the FSB has its way.