Russia’s League of Internet Security proposed on Wednesday creating a blacklist of websites containing child pornography and “other prohibited information” and oblige internet providers to block such sites.
“There are some people who believe that internet freedom should be absolute,” said Channel One newsreader Pyotr Tolstoi, a member of the Russian Public Chamber and the League’s board of trustees.
“But I personally believe that freedom for perverts on the internet is a luxury that we cannot allow to exist,” Tolstoi said at a news conference in Moscow, adding that “immediate action” needed to be taken.
The League’s proposal followed its announcement that it had broken up an international ring of 130 alleged pedophiles circulating material via the internet. The League’s president, Konstantin Malofeyev, described the ring as “largest in the history of the Russian internet."
Denis Davydov, the League’s executive director, said the proposed bills also provide for tracking down “extremist” materials on the web, raising fears among the Russian media and internet community that they could make it easier for the authorities to crack down on dissent under the guise of fighting child abuse.
The League, whose board of trustees is headed by Communications Minister Igor Shchyogolev, proposed creating a special public organization involving experts, representatives of internet providers and search engines to monitor the web in search of suspicious content.
In line with the amendments, which have yet to be submitted to parliament, websites containing child porn are to be blocked as soon as they are identified, while those containing “other prohibited information,” including suspected extremist materials, can only be closed following a court ruling.
Andrei Soldatov, a security analyst from the Agentura think tank, described the amendments as “excessive.
He pointed out that the Communications Agency, Roscomsvyaz, has just launched a special system intended to reveal extremist materials on the internet
“It’s not up to public organizations to decide what can be considered pornography and blacklist websites,” he said.
“State structures, whose activities are restricted by law, should deal with this issue, and this should be done based on a court decision,” he said. “Why should a public organization take on the functions of law enforcement?”
Internet control to increase?
The League’s initiative follows a number of recent moves and proposals by senior Russian officials and the Federal Security Service (FSB) on internet regulation.
Many internet users and opposition activists have described the moves as an attempt by the state to “introduce censorship” of the internet in order to prevent the spread of protest sentiments amid strong public criticism of the December 4 parliamentary elections.
Numerous videos from polling stations were posted on the internet following the vote, featuring what protesters have described as wide-spread vote fraud in favor of United Russia. The alleged violations triggered mass street protests across the country last week, including a major rally in downtown Moscow last Saturday, which gathered between 25,000 and 50,000 plus protesters, according to various estimates.
The management of Russia’s most popular social network Vkontakte reported last week that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had requested them to deactivate accounts of groups that contained posts calling for street protests. The company said it had rejected the request while promising to keep blocking the accounts of specific users who have explicitly called for public disorder. The FSB has declined to comment on the reported request.
Another proposal regarding internet security has been put forward by senior Interior Ministry official Alexei Moshkov, who said anonymous accounts should be outlawed on social networks and online forums to prevent internet fraud, blackmailing and child abuse.
“If you are a just and law abiding person, why would you want to hide?” Moshkov, who heads the ministry’s bureau in charge of technical services, said in an interview with the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta. “There is no censorship on the internet,” he said.
He also said the police would not “seek and arrest anyone for criticism” of the authorities.
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev later dismissed the proposal, calling it “nonsense.”
Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian Security Council and a former FSB chief, was reported on Wednesday to have called for the “rational regulation of the internet” in an interview with the Argumenti I Fakti daily.
“Attempts to prevent personal communication are counterproductive, and even immoral,” he said, “but we cannot ignore that the internet is being used by criminals and terrorist gangs.”
“Rational regulation of the internet should take place in Russia, as happens in the United States, China and many other countries,” he added.
Newsreader Tolstoi dismissed media allegations on Wednesday that the amendments proposed by the League could be used to increase pressure on dissent.
“I understand that Bolotnaya Square is more interesting for you,” he told journalists, referring to the site of last Saturday’s mass vote protest rally in Moscow. “But we are a different organization, and this is not our remit.”