Russia To Disconnect Itself From the Internet: A Step Towards Complete Censorship?

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No internet in Russia!

Together with the main internet suppliers of the country, the Russian authorities will soon be seen carrying out a planned experiment to disconnect the country from the internet.

The proposed experiment is a part of the government’s efforts to collect information and provide feedback and suggestions to legislation proposed by the Russian lawmakers in December 2018.

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A law submitted by the Russian lawmakers to the State Duma on December 14, 2018, had made it compulsory for internet providers in Russia to ensure the independence of Russian internet space (Runet) to ensure proper functioning of the internet even if it is disconnected from the World Wide Web.

As per the new set of proposals:

  1. The state authorities will switch over to its own domain name system (DNS), by giving up the global internet. As per the new DNS, the easier to remember domain names will be replaced by resources’ numerical addresses, thereby safeguarding Russia’s .ru and .рф domains against potential attacks.
  2. All telecom companies operating in Russia will be required to install ‘technical means’ to redirect all internet traffic within Russia to exchange points approved or managed by Roskomnadzor, the federal media regulator. As per this internet traffic routing, only Russian websites will be able to work. This is aimed to ensure that all data or information shared online by Russian users stays within the country, and is not re-routed through servers based in other countries where it could be intercepted and perhaps misused.
  3. Roskomnadzor will also supervise the working of these internet providers and block all banned sources of content over the internet.

Any tools required for effecting proposals outlined by the new law known as the Digital Economy National Program will be sponsored by the state and provided to the ISPs free of charge.

Dates for carrying out this experiment have not yet been mentioned for this test but it is being widely conjectured that it will be completed before the end of March 2019. That is because the deadline for suggesting amendments to the proposals is April 1.

All major ISPs operating in Russia have agreed to the goals outlined by the Digital Economy National Program but are said to have expressed reservations regarding the technical implementation of the same during the test disconnect programme. They fear major disruptions and therefore inconvenience to Russian internet traffic during the trial run. Discussions to minimise the downtime for government agencies, as well as private internet users, are already underway.

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This is not the first time that the Russian authorities have proposed imposing such draconian laws under the pretext of national security. If sources are to be believed, the Russian government had been working towards this for many years.

Way back in 2017, Russian authorities had expressed their desire to re-route all internet traffic by 2020.

Without announcing it to the world, Russian authorities had already built up their indigenous DNS which they are said to have tested in 2014 and 2018.

The proposed law which enjoys the full support of President Vladimir Putin is expected to pass without any major hurdles.

Russia is perhaps keen to emulate big brother and former communist ally China here, by building its own system on the lines of the Great Firewall. In spite of being home to the world’s largest population and therefore being a huge user base, social giants like Google and Facebook are banned in China. The country has its own search engines, indigenous messaging apps and own social networks.

Russian government plans to go one step further and have a fully functional intranet in place, in case the country desires to or is forced to sever ties with the World Wide Web.

Remains to be seen if the erstwhile giant is actually putting national security first and just gearing up for any eventuality, or is this another step towards imposing total censorship?

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