In Russia, the controversial law for a “sovereign Internet” under complete state control has entered into force. This Russian ‘online iron curtain’ is being launched as a “security measure” to protect Russia in the event of an emergency or foreign threat like a cyberattack. The law will allow the Kremlin to tighten control over the country’s Internet, RuNet, by routing web traffic through state-controlled data center and telecom infrastructure and creating a national system of domain names.
President Vladimir Putin had already signed the law in May this year. Critics see it as a pretext for extending political control in Russia and an attempt by the Russian government to censor information online. The law also provides for extensive data retention.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Russia to protest the measure earlier this year, while human rights advocates warned the law threatens free speech and media.
So far, Internet Service Providers have been able to operate under free market conditions. Now the Russian state will be exerting direct influence. It is expected that Russian Internet traffic will be routed via nodes in Russia soon. The infrastructure for this has yet to be established.
ISPs would have to buy equipment for this, but many technical questions still remain unanswered. Russian telecom providers also have to install “technical means” to re-route all Russian Internet traffic to Internet Exchanges approved or managed by Roskomnazor, the telecom watchdog in Russia. Roskomnazor would then inspect the Internet traffic to block prohibited content while making sure that traffic between Russian users will stay inside Russia and is not re-routed “uselessly” through servers abroad where it could be intercepted by others.
As “the Internet” is powered by servers in many data centers across the world, interconnected cables and networking infrastructure crossing borders and oceans, it would make it difficult for Russian government to gain full control over the Internet infrastructure and usage in their country.
Russia’s law though is also targeting the address book of “the Internet”, the Domain Name System (DNS). While the DNS converts a web address into an IP address that fetches the site you were searching for, Russia’s newly established system would use a proxy to steer packets of information away from the public DNS resolver by default. Then it will check where the data is located, and either let the information through, redirect it, or have it completely blocked. At least you could say it’s a serious attempt by Russian government to gain full control over the Internet infrastructure.
National Security vs. Human Rights
The organization Reporters Without Borders (ROG) complained that this would take Internet censorship in Russia to a new level. ROG sees it as a violation of human rights such as freedom of expression and unhindered access to information. Even now, many websites in Russia – such as those of the opposition – are blocked.
The Russian leadership has rejected the concerns of critics. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that it was not planning to disconnect Russia from the Internet. Rather, there would be a danger that “the West” will disconnect Russia from the Internet. Therefore, the country would need an independent digital infrastructure for an autonomous Internet. Putin defended the project as necessary for the country’s national security.