“Attack on the Internet” – Russia creates its own state network

There has been talk of a “state Internet” in Russia, of total censorship and control, of an attack on the last remaining freedoms in the Giant Kingdom for months. Now it is
so far: Russia’s controversial law on a separate Internet came into force on Friday. Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin slammed criticism from network experts and human rights defenders in May when he signed the law. No matter what it costs, the
Commodity and nuclear power must have an autonomous Internet in case of a possible cyber attack from abroad or other dangers.
That is a question of “national security”.

Critics, on the other hand, speak of an imminent digital isolation of Russia. Already it is so that many Internet sites that are freely available in Germany, for example, remain blocked for Russian users – such as the Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The human rights organization Agora sees the law as a “fundamental turnaround” in government policy in controlling the Internet.

An independent digital infrastructure

Thousands – especially young people – had demonstrated against the law in the spring. They fear that the Kremlin could in the future switch off the Internet at will for political reasons. Putin’s spokesman – Dmitri Peskov, responsible for Internet issues in the Kremlin – dismissed this as nonsense. No one intends to disconnect Russia from the World Wide Web. Rather, there is the danger that the West will disconnect Russia from the grid. That’s why the country needs an independent digital infrastructure.

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Only the reserve structure for more security is created, said the head of the Information Policy Committee in the Russian State Duma, Leonid Lewin. The “Runet” remains a part of the worldwide network. It is about secure network access for Russian users, regardless of how foreign providers work. In addition, the autonomous network should be used only in case of danger from the outside – as well as practice.

The Moscow expert Alexander Isawnin from the independent organization Roskomswoboda fighting for the freedom of the Internet also sees economic interests behind the law. The aim is to reduce the number of around 5,000 providers in the hitherto free market by direct state intervention. Technically, much was still unclear.

It is clear, however, that the Russian Internet traffic should be routed via junctions in their own country, explains Isawnin. The infrastructure for this has yet to be built. First, providers should acquire equipment that allows the supreme regulator Roskomnadsor to directly control content and control the traffic.

The previously free market will be destroyed, says Isawnin. “With the law, the state has the instrument to intervene directly, something like that does not exist in Germany, and after all the experience so far, the worst is to be expected,” he says in an interview with the German Press Agency. Isawnin fears that with increasing monopolization, the Internet could become slower and more expensive in the future. Overall, but also questionable, whether the technically all could work at all.

Corporations already complain about enormous costs, because they have to store traffic for months. The companies recently called on the Russian state legislator to pay the costs. The Russian state wants to create a completely new infrastructure in order to be independent from American corporations, where so far most of the data is stored. The Russians have long been bothered by the fact that Western Internet corporations, in particular, have access to the valuable datasets.

The data of Russian citizens may already no longer be stored on servers abroad under another law. This led to the blocking of the career network LinkedIn in Russia. Against Facebook and Twitter there were so far mainly threats and administrative penalties. However, the entrances are not blocked.

Threat to the freedom of the Internet

The organization Reporters Without Borders (ROG) criticizes the law as a further attack on freedom of the press and expression. Control and filtering of data traffic would now lie with the media supervision and the secret service. Therefore, the law is a threat to the freedom of the Internet, the attempt of censorship. “It proves that the Russian leadership is ready to bring the entire infrastructure of the network under political control in order to cut off the digital information flow when needed,” says ROG CEO Christian Mihr.

However, those who had been around during the protests of the opposition last summer got a foretaste of what that might feel like in the future. A posting of messages in social networks or even just by phone were partly no longer possible. In protests in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia in the North Caucasus, access to the Internet in 2018 according to the media was simply blocked.

“It takes a lot of effort to fight against the negative consequences of the law,” says Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev in an interview with the tabloid MK. He still sees the freedom-loving reflexes in Russian society intact – unlike China, for example, where the Internet has never been free.

“The ‘thumbscrews’ may be tightening in the short term to do any local job, but a ‘Chinese Internet’ can not be implemented,” he says. Marinichev hopes that the law will be abolished in the end.

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