It became apparent in November that internet filtering introduced in Russia under the pretext of protecting children is actually for a different reason. Six videos of feminist punk group Pussy Riot were banned by the Moscow court in November, and now Google is required to remove the clips from YouTube.
At the same time, regional authorities were busy demanding that local Internet Service Providers(ISPs) to block access to online casinos, gaming sites and sites advertising fake diplomas — obviously the result of November’s new development.
As in October, many websites were deemed to be extremist, and local ISPs were requested to block access to them. Libraries were criticised for having computers with unrestricted access to banned websites, and it was requested that they install internet filtering systems. The authorities started a campaign to check how effective schools are protecting children from improper content. As a result, schools were obliged to install content-filtering systems.
And, inevitably, only a month after the national register of banned websites was launched numerous errors were reported: by mistake the whole of Google’s blogging service Blogger (blogspot.com) was included in the register, along with anonymiser service and even YouTube, which was on the register for a few hours.
On 29 November, a Moscow district court demanded the removal of six videos of Pussy Riot from the web, for being “extremists”, including a video of three members performing a “punk prayer” on the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012, in protest of Vladimir Putin. Three Pussy Riot members, Nadia Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Samutsevich was released from prison after she appealed her case.
The court decision lists the IP addresses which should be added to the national register — including YouTube, Pussy Riot’s blog, and their page on LiveJournal.
Here is a list of what was filtered in November:
On 14 November the Prosecutor’s Office of Karbardino-Balkaria reported that it had carried out an audit of compliance with legislation on higher professional education, and in the process prosecutors found publicly available websites offering educational documents for sale, including diplomas, certificates, authorisations and verifications letters. The prosecutors filed claims in court, requesting that access to the website be restricted.
On 21 November, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation announced that the Ust-Ilimsk Interdistrict Prosecutor’s office found sites advertising Sergei Mavrodi’s “MMM-2012” project. Prosecutors called for ISPs to block websites promoting the project, on the grounds that it “possesses attributes of a pyramid scheme”. The court approved the request.
On 27 November it was reported that the Prosecutor’s office in the Lahdenpohja district of Karelia conducted an audit to ensure compliance with a ban on online gambling, and found publicly accessible online gambling sites, with electronic payment systems. The Prosecutor’s Office filed a claim with the Lahdenpohja District court against the local ISP aiming to limit access to the sites.
Also on 27 November, the prosecutor’s office in the Ardon district of North Ossetia reportedly carried out an audit to ensure compliance with the ban on online gambling, and found that users were still able to access such sites. The prosecutor’s office then filed 15 court claims against the Internet provider Rostelecom, demanding that it restrict access to these sites. The lawsuit is pending.
On 12 November The Kostroma Regional Prosecutor Office announced that the Pyschugskii District Prosecutor’s Office had conducted an inspection to verify compliance with the anti-extremist legislation in educational institutions. The audit found that in several district schools the content filters failed to block students’ access to extremist materials.
Following the audit, five motions were sent out to the school directors regarding the impermissibility of violating the law. Based on the results of the subsequent review, seven people faced disciplinary charges.
In November the Kaluga Regional Prosecutor’s Office, in the course of an audit of compliance with legislation on countering extremism, identified several educational institutions that used no content filtering software. In particular, the students of Obninsk Industrial Technical School had access to materials that contained propaganda of racial and ethnic intolerance.
Similar violations were identified in Kaluga, and Ferzikovskii, Baryatinskii, Medynskii, Yukhnovskii, Zhukovskii, Peremyshlskii, Suhinichskii, Kirovskii and Lyudinovskii Districts.
Based on the results of the audit, 27 protests and 31 court claims have been filed this year, and 23 officials have faced disciplinary liability. All of the violations have been addressed.
On 30 November it was reported that the Elets District Prosecutor’s Office had conducted an inspection of educational institutions in order to verify their compliance with the legislation aimed at protecting children from harmful information. Violations were found at several schools, including schools in the village of Talitsa, towns of Yeletskii, Sokolie and Solidarnost’, and the village of Ekaterinovka. The Internet filtering software in those schools had failed to block dangerous materials. As a result, students had been able to access web sites that contained incitement to extremist activities, instructions on smoking implements, and information on methods to commit suicide.
The school directors received requests to cease violations. Those responsible have faced disciplinary charges.
In early November, Lipetsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office reported that the Soviet District Prosecutor’s Office of Lipetsk had conducted an audit of compliance with the legislation on countering extremist activity and identified some schools that provided access to extremist materials.
In particular, it was found that Lipetsk State Technical University students had access to the writings by Adolf Hitler. The items, featured on the Federal List of Extremist Materials were also available to students of Vocational School № 2.
The Prosecutor’s office asked the court that the Lipetsk branch of Rostelecom restrict access to these materials. The court granted the request of the Prosecutor’s Office.
On 6 November the ruling by the Tver Court of Moscow came into effect that recognized The Innocence of Muslims Video as extremist. There were no appeals, and now the movie is to be included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
The “blacklist” of illegal materials also came to include the 4chan.org imageboard – a popular resource for anonymous publication and discussion of images. The reasons for its inclusion on the register are unknown.
During the first two weeks of its existence, 180 web pages were added to the Register of prohibited sites, 41 of which were to be blocked. Among other resources, the list of prohibited materials came to include Russia’s largest torrent tracker Rutracker.org, the lib.rus.ec digital library, the online encyclopedia Lurkmore.to, and one of the pages from the VKontakte social network. Rutracker.org was added to the list for distributing the Suicide Encyclopedia; Vkontakte for a page by the “Russian Breivik”; lib.rus.ec – for publishing The Anarchist Cookbook; and Lurkmore.to for allegedly promoting drugs.
On 12 November through 14 November, 21 items were deleted from the Register, including the above-named sites.
On 21 November, YouTube temporarily appeared on the list, but was removed after only a few hours. Roskomnadzor reported that the website had removed objectionable content in a timely manner, but still ended up on the list due to a technical failure.
In addition, the anonymizer service hangonet.dyndns.org/proxy and its IP-address 188.8.131.52 were added to the Register. This service allows the user to hide his or her IP-address in order to gain access to blocked sites. Notably, the “black list” contains the URL of the service, which leads to a different resource instead of the principal address of the service.
In late November, the IP address of the Blogspot.com blogging service was included on the register of sites that contain information, distribution of which is prohibited in the Russian Federation. Roskomnadzor included it on the register on November 24 at the initiative of the Federal Service for Drug Control. This address also holds Google fonts, Chrome browser plug-ins, and Gmail file attachments.
Google management reported that it had received no notification regarding inappropriate information and was unable to remove it in a timely manner, since the Roskomnadzor’s notification had been mistakenly sent to a different address.
The IP-address for Blogspot.com has since been taken off the register, but during its time on the list Google users complained about the loss of some Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Play functionality.
Andrei Soldatov is a Russian journalist, and together with Irina Borogan, co-founder of the Agentura.Ru website. Last year, Soldatov and Borogan co-authored The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (PublicAffairs)