Russian Minister to Propose 'Strict' Internet Regulation

Internet regulation
Russia’s communication minister Nikolay Nikiforov will present his recommendations for the plan in April. sergei Karpukhin/ REUTERS/

Russia's minister of communications and mass media is due to unveil a plan to put the country's internet under much stricter government regulations next month, according to Russian newspaper Vedomosti.

The newspaper, which partners the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, reported today that Russia's communication minister Nikolai Nikiforov will present a recommendation to impose new regulatory measures on Russian internet as soon as 2 April, in a move which could bring Russia's state control of the internet in line with China.

Vedomosti credits a source close to the minister and another source who is purportedly familiar with the plans in question. They insist that the plan aims to put companies who manage infrastructure which is critical to running Russia's internet "under direct state control", and the government will not monitor content but rather it will monitor the traffic itself.

This will reportedly happen through the introduction of measures preventing Russian companies who offer internet services from basing their databases outside of the remits of Russian law. According to the report, if Nikiforov's plan is implemented, it would force companies such as Russian search engine company Yandex which has a data centre in Finland to cease using it.

The restrictions would be in line with the Russian government's continual push to increase the "sovereignty" of Russian internet, although Vedomosti notes that the details about the extent of the changes are still unknown.

According to the paper's sources, at first glance the plan resembles China's handling of the internet which aims to impose "strict state control over all the key elements of the infrastructure". As a result, China's capability to restrict access to services provided by the likes of Google has been referred to as "the Great Firewall". Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also been blocked in China.

While it remains to be seen whether Nikiforov's proposals will also make this kind of mass blocking possible, Vedomosti estimates that, depending on the extent of the restrictions the plan will shift "the market in favor of nationalization of the internet in Russia."

The report follows a speech yesterday by Russian president Vladimir Putin to the board of the Federal Security Service, highlighting the need to regulate Russia's internet.

"We need to continue to clean the Russian internet space from illegal, criminal materials to make greater use of modern technology to participate in the formation of international information security," he said.

Efforts to nationalise Russia's segment of the internet are not new. Google's CEO Eric Schmidt last year warned that the country was on its way to imposing regulations on the same level as China after Russia's online policing body gained the right to take down websites without court order last year.

Russia also requires companies like Google to locate servers with Russian traffic data in Russia for six months. Matthew Schaaf, a program officer at Freedom House, a research group in Washington told Bloomberg: "It could have a serious chilling effect on online expression, making users stop to think how their Google searches and Facebook posts could be used against them."