A Free Internet Is Slowing Putin’s Regime, Report Says

(PresidentialHill.com)- A column at the Center for European Policy Analysis website last week noted that, as much as he has tried, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Internet filtering system has failed to block information from the Russian people.

According to the writers, the Internet played a central role in protests that erupted a decade ago when tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest Putin’s return to the presidency.

An outraged Vladimir Putin responded to the social media-driven protests by having the Russian parliament pass new legislation introducing a nationwide Internet filtering system. It established a single registry of illegal websites and government agencies were granted the authority to designate what sites would be banned.

Russia’s Agency for the Supervision of Information Technology, Communications, and Mass Media, Roskomnadzor, began blacklisting websites that it deemed “extremist.” Russian Internet providers and mobile operators were required to check the blacklist register daily and block all prohibited sites. In no time, thousands of websites were blocked in Russia.

But the Internet filtering system failed to work according to plan. Not only were thousands of sites mistakenly added to the blacklist, but Russians were also able to access blocked sites by using VPN or Tor. And since Facebook and the Russian equivalent VKontakte were not blacklisted, Russians used those platforms to share news and discuss politics.

It wasn’t until after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 that Putin set his sights on VKontakte. The Kremlin took control of the platform, forced the founder into exile, and put a Kremlin stooge in his place.

But even that didn’t go according to plan. Despite Moscow denying the Russian military was involved in Crimea, Russian soldiers, proud of their work, began posting pictures of their mission in Crimea and the world discovered the truth.

In 2015, Moscow, eager to improve its spying capabilities on Russian users, required Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other global platforms to store their Russian users’ data in the country. However, the Western companies balked at the idea and found workarounds to sabotage the Kremlin’s order.

In 2018, the Russian parliament passed new legislation that required telecom and Internet providers to make user data, including phone conversations, text messages, photos, and videos available to the FSB intelligence services.