July 13, 2017

Russian government to completely ban VPNs throughout the country

Following in the footsteps of China, officials in Moscow push for stricter online censorship and anti-piracy regulations.

The Russian government’s scheme to outlaw the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), anonymity network Tor and other proxy service providers is gathering momentum after the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, unanimously agreed to the newly drafted legislations. Taking a leaf out of China’s book, the Putin administration is looking to make strides towards toughening up the country’s online censorship practices, as well as cracking down on copyright infringement.

Earlier in April, new legislations were officially drafted and submitted to the State Duma. Statements taken from the draft read that the ‘routing traffic of Russian internet users through foreign servers, anonymous proxy servers, virtual private networks and other means will be prohibited’.

In light of the new regulations, there were high-level discussions held this week among Russian ISPs, internet industry representatives, the head of Russian telecom watchdog Rozcomnadzor and several VPN providers. Sources in Russia who are close to the issue report that the government’s decision has not been received favorably by those involved in the meeting.

However, the internet industry is not the one to be left reeling by the new regulations. A second law that was also approved by the State Duma last month will force mobile operators to identify specific users, block messages if requested to do so by the government and allow state authorities to send their own messages to all civilian subscribers. This has led to widespread criticism from several players in the Russian telecom space, with the Director of Government Relations for VimpelCom, Sergey Malyanov, quoted as saying:

We have significantly complicated the law and the activities of all the people affected by it. The question is whether this bill addresses the goal its creators have set for themselves. In my opinion, it will not.

Despite receiving a fair amount of public backlash, the State Duma voted to approve the proposed legislations in the very first reading by a margin of 363 votes to 0.

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