The Kremlin tightens its grip on Russians’ online lives – threatening domestic freedoms and global internet :: InvestMacro

By Stanislav BudnitzkyAnd the Indiana University

Since the outbreak of the Russian war on Ukraine in late February 2022, Russian netizens have suffered from what has been termeddigital iron curtain. “

Russian authorities blocked access to all major opposition news websites, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. under Strict new laws aimed at combating fake news About the Russo-Ukrainian War, Internet users faced administrative and criminal charges for allegedly spreading disinformation online about Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Most Western tech companies, from Airbnb to Apple, Stop or limit their Russian operations As part of the broader Corporate immigration from the country.

many Russians Downloaded Virtual Private Network Software For trying to access blocked websites and services in the first weeks of the war. By late April, 23% of Russian Internet users I reported using VPNs with varying regularity. State media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, VPNs are blocked To prevent people from bypassing government censorship and intensified its efforts In June 2022.

Although the speed and scope of the wartime online crackdown is unprecedented, it is legalAnd the Technical And the rhetorical The foundations were laid during the previous decade Under the banner of digital sovereignty.

Digital Sovereignty of States It is the exercise of state power within national borders over digital processes such as the flow of data and content over the Internet, surveillance and privacy, and the production of digital technologies. Under authoritarian regimes like Russia today, digital sovereignty often serves as A veil to obstruct the internal opposition.

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Pioneer of Digital Sovereignty

Russia has been called to stick State sovereignty over information and communications Since the early nineties. In the aftermath of the Cold War, a weakened Russia could no longer compete with the United States economically, technologically, or militarily. Instead, Russian leaders sought to diminish the emerging American hegemony in the world and uphold Russia’s great power status.

They did so by promoting the supremacy of state sovereignty as a basic principle of the international system. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, seeking to demonstrate the resurgence of its superpower, Moscow has joined forces with Beijing To lead the global movement for online supremacy.

Despite its decades-long defense of digital sovereignty on the global stage, the Kremlin did not begin to impose state power over domestic cyberspace until early 2010. From late 2011 to mid-2012, Russia experienced The largest series of anti-government rallies in post-Soviet history To protest the third presidential run of Vladimir Putin and fraudulent parliamentary elections. As in the anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, the Internet has been a critical tool In organizing and coordinating the Russian protests.

After Putin returned to the presidency in March 2012, the Kremlin It turned its attention to controlling the Russian cyberspace. The so-called Blacklist Act created a framework for blocking websites under the guise of combating child pornography, suicide, extremism and other widely recognized societal ills.

However, the law has been Regularly used to block websites of opposition activists and media. Then, the law known as the Blogs Act subjected all websites and social media accounts with more than 3,000 daily users to traditional media regulations by requiring them to register in the state.

The next pivotal moment in Moscow’s embrace of Autocratic Digital Sovereignty It came after Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. Over the next five years, as Russia’s relations with the West deteriorated, the Russian government took a barrage of initiatives aimed at tightening its control over the country’s increasingly entangled populace.

For example, the Data Localization Act required foreign technology companies to retain Russian citizens Data on servers located within the country Thus it is easily accessible by the authorities. Under the pretext of combating terrorism, there is another law that obliges telecommunications and Internet companies to do so Keeping users’ communications for six months and their metadata for three years and handed over to authorities upon request without a court order.

The Kremlin has used these and other legal innovations to open criminal cases against thousands of internet users and imprison hundreds for “likes” and sharing. Social media content criticizing the government.

Sovereign Internet Law

In April 2019, the Russian authorities took their aspirations for digital sovereignty to another level with the so-called Sovereign Internet Law. Law opened the door to Abuse of individual users and isolation of the Internet community As a whole.

The law obliges all Internet service providers to install state-mandated devices “to counter threats to the stability, security, and functional integrity of the Internet” within Russia’s borders. The Russian government has widely interpreted the threats, including social media content.

For example, the authorities have This law has been used over and over to throttle Twitter performance On mobile devices when Twitter fails to comply with government requests to remove “illegal” content.

Moreover, the law establishes protocols for redirecting all Internet traffic through Russian territory and for a single command center to manage this traffic. Ironically, the Moscow-based center that now controls traffic and fights foreign circumvention tools, such as Tor BrowserAnd the Requires Chinese and US hardware and software To work in the absence of Russian counterparts.

Finally, the law promises to create a Russian national system for domain names. DNS is the Internet’s primary global database that translates between web names like and their Internet addresses, in this case DNS is operated by a California-based non-profit organization, which is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

At the time of passing the law, Putin justified the national DNS system By saying that it would allow the Russian Internet sector to operate even if ICANN cut off Russia from the global Internet in a hostile act. In practice, days after the Russian invasion in February 2022, the Ukrainian authorities asked ICANN to separate Russia from the DNS, ICANN denied the request. ICANN officials said they wanted to avoid setting a precedent for entire countries to be separated for political reasons.

Ukrainian activists are trying to break through the digital Iron Curtain to bring news of the war from sources outside Russia to the Russian people.

Global Internet Divide

Russo-Ukrainian war undermined global Internet safety, through the actions of Russia and the actions of technology companies in the West. In an unprecedented move, social media platforms have advanced Access to Russian state media blocked.

The Internet is a global network of networks. Interoperability between these networks is the basic principle of the Internet. The single Internet model has always clashed with the reality of cultural and linguistic diversity in the world: unsurprisingly, most users do not demand content from faraway countries in unintelligible languages. Until now, Politically motivated restrictions threaten to fragment the internet into increasingly disjointed networks.

Although it may not be fought over on the battlefield, global interdependence has become one of the values ​​at stake in the Russo-Ukrainian War. And while Russia has consolidated its control over parts of eastern Ukraine, it has done so Moving the Digital Iron Curtain to that frontier.Conversation

About the author:

Stanislav BudnitskyPostdoctoral Fellow in Global and International Studies, Indiana University

This article has been republished from Conversation Under a Creative Commons License. Read the original article.

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