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Attempts to harvest Iranian users web details may be politically motivated, says the Internet giant. Sara Yasin reports
December provided further evidence that the Russian authorities’ prime targets in their quest to censor allegedly illegal websites are not those containing content harmful to children, as they have claimed, but those publicising “extremist” political views and offering online gambling.
In the meantime, a new trend has emerged in Russia. Institutions providing public access to the internet — schools, libraries, internet clubs and even post offices — being targeted for law enforcement agency inspections to check whether their computers had been updated to prevent access to banned websites. Quite remarkably, the inspections in schools and educational institutes checked access not only to content harmful to children and students, but also to sites deemed extremist.
Regional prosecutor’s offices have in several cases filed lawsuits against local administrations to demand that they provide funding for the installation of content filters on school computers.
The Samara regional prosecutor’s office reported on 4 December that the Kirov district prosecutor’s office of Samara had filed seven claims against the ISP Svyazinvest, Lan-CTS, Indzhinium, and Samara-Koss. The prosecutor demanded that providers restrict access to pages containing extremist materials, including The Fortress of the Muslim by Said Wahf al-Qahtani, Prophet Muhammad Mustafa by Osman Nuri Topbas, and Council for Kings by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. All these books are included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The lawsuits are pending.
On 4 December the Yoshkar-Ola city prosecutor’s office reported on the audit of compliance with the law on combating extremist activity. The inspection had found that website providing public access to The International Jew by Henry Ford, which is included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, was accessible. The prosecutor’s office filed a court claim against the local branches of the ISPs Rostelecom, Mobile TeleSystems, ER-Telecom Holding, MegaFon and Vympel-Communications demanding that they limit access to this website. The Yoshkar-Ola city court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office.
Reports on 5 December said that Nizhneserginsky district prosecutor’s office of the Sverdlovsk region had found publicly accessible sites that contained extremist materials, including the book Who is Afraid of Russian National Socialism by AA Dobrovolski and several Islamist tracts. The prosecutor’s office filed a court claim against the ISP AtsTeleKom, demanding that it restrict access to these sites by installing IP-address filtering. The ISP voluntarily complied with the prosecutor’s request.
On 7 December it was announced that the Moscow district prosecutor’s office of Kaliningrad region, in the course of its audit of compliance with anti-extremist legislation, had found websites The Imarat Caucasus Service and The Official Site of Vilayat Dagestan, both recognised as extremist, to be publicly accessible. Based on the audit results, the prosecutor’s office filed a court claim against the ISP TIS-Dialog, demanding that access to these sites be restricted. In the course of the trial, the ISP voluntarily complied with the request of the prosecutor’s office and restricted access to these sites.
On 7 December it was reported that the Sudogodsky district prosecutor’s office of Vladimir region had in the course of its audit of compliance with anti-extremist legislation found that students in several district schools had had access to prohibited content, in particular to radical Islamists’ calls for changing the constitutional order. Directors of several schools received orders to cease the violations and to hold the perpetrators accountable. The schools installed additional filters, and the responsible parties faced disciplinary charges.
Reports from 12 December revealed that Starominsky district prosecutor’s office in Krasnodar region had found in the course of its audit that computers used for remote education of children with neurological and musculoskeletal disorders allowed access to websites containing extremist materials “and other resources, inconsistent with the objectives of education and training”, as well as access to social networks. The prosecutor concluded that the Starominsky education department inadequately monitored the implementation of the federal National Priority Project for education. An order to cease the violation and to pursue disciplinary charges against perpetrators was sent to the head of municipal education in Starominsky.
The prosecutor’s office of Samara region in Novokuibyshevsk identified on 14 December prohibited materials posted on a number of sites, including materials recognised as extremist, information about the sale of illegal drugs and smoking mixtures, information on giving bribes and ways to avoid military service. The prosecutor’s office has filed 40 lawsuits against the ISPs MIRS, NeksTellSamara, Progress-IT and TesKomVolga demanding that access to these sites be restricted. The lawsuits are pending.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Karachay-Cherkessia reported on 17 December that it had found a website featuring extremist materials to be publicly accessible at a Cherkessk internet club. The report will serve as a basis for determining an appropriate penalty for the club management and the ISP for failing to block access to the site.
On 17 December it became known that Kamchatka ISPs had received nine orders in December to cease their violations of the federal law on combating extremist activity. The orders were based on the results of a September audit by the prosecutor’s office, which had revealed the fact of public access to The Innocence of Muslims online video.
It was announced on 19 December that the Novorossiysk department of the Interior Ministry Centre for Combating Extremism for Krasnodar region filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office relating to public accessibility in Gelendzhik of the website Vilayat Dagestan Independent Information and Analytics . The site had been recognised as extremist and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Access had been provided by the local branch of the ISP MTS. The prosecutor’s office issued a warning to the ISP.
On 20 December it was reported that the Dalmatovsky district prosecutor’s office of Kurgan region had in the course of its audit had found that the ISP Rus had failed to limit access to a website recognised as extremist. The prosecutor’s office filed a court claim against the provider, requesting a court order to restrict access to the website.
On 24 December the Primorye regional prosecutor’s office announced that the Frunze district prosecutor in Vladivostok had found websites included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials to be publicly accessible. The local ISP Vladlink received an order to cease the violations of the law on combating extremist activity. The provider accepted the prosecutor’s order by restricting access to extremist websites.
Reports on 21 December said that the Yagodninsky district prosecutor’s office of Magadan region had in the course of its audit found a website was accessible that featured the Wahhabi Islamist tract The Book of Monotheism, which is included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Prosecutors went to court demanding that the local ISP restrict access to the website by blocking its domain name.
On 25 December it was reported that the Oktyabrsky district prosecutor’s office in Yekaterinburg had identified four sites that contained information on the distribution of drugs and advertised smoking blends.
In addition, the prosecutors identified websites that contained incitement to war and incitement to racial and religious hatred. The prosecutor’s office filed four court claims against the ISP Uralwestcom demanding that it limit access to these sites. The Kirov district court of Yekaterinburg granted the request of the prosecutor’s office in full.
On 25 December it was revealed that the prosecutor’s office of the Lev Tolstoy district of Lipetsk region had in the course of its audit of ISPs found that computer software in the information sciences lab of the Kuzovlevo village school was not preventing students from accessing sites containing extremist material. The prosecutor filed a lawsuit demanding that the ISP Rostelecom block access to extremist websites.
On 26 December The Innocence of Muslims online video, recognised as extremist by a 1 October decision of the Tver district court in Moscow, was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, as item 1589. The list features a YouTube address of the video. It has since been removed from the site but can still be found elsewhere on the internet.
It became known on 4 December that the Gvardeisky district prosecutor’s office had filed a lawsuit against Rostelecom, requesting that it restrict access to gambling websites. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, noting that the claims had to be filed against the site owners (game organisers), and not against the ISP. The appeal court reversed the decision and granted the request of the prosecutor’s office.
On 11 December it was reported that the Verkh-Iset district prosecutor’s office of Yekaterinburg had identified several websites that conducted illegal online gambling. Access to these sites had been provided by the ISP INSIS. The prosecutor’s office went to court demanding that the ISP restrict access to these sites by installing IP-address filtering on its routers. The Oktyabrsky district court in Yekaterinburg dismissed the claim due to the voluntary compliance with the prosecutor’s request by the ISP.
Reports on 14 December said that Muravlenko city prosecutor’s office of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District had in the course of its audit identified six websites registered outside Russia and intended for online gambling. The local branch of Rostelecom received an order to cease the violations. The ISP refused to comply with the prosecutor’s request, citing lack of necessary equipment and insisting that access restrictions should be implemented by the hosting provider. Subsequently, the prosecutor’s office went to court, demanding that the local branch of Rostelecom restrict access to the identified sites. The Salekhard city court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office.
On 25 December it was reported that the Leningrad regional prosecutor’s office had filed court claims in the Volkhov district demanding that the ISPs Etalon Optic and Volkhov Online block access to sites, identified by prosecutors as illegal online casinos. The court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office
On 27 December the Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office reported that in the course of inspection it had revealed a number of online casinos. The prosecutor’s office had been to court in autumn 2012 demanding that the ISPs Alfakom and Novgorod Datacom restrict access to the identified sites by blocking their IP-addresses on its routers. In November, the court granted the prosecutor’s office claims. Subscriber access to gambling sites has been blocked.
On 12 December the Tambov regional prosecutor’s office reported that articles aimed at inciting national hatred had been found to be publicly available in one of the Morshansk secondary vocational schools. The director of the school received an order to cease the violations by installing filtering rules on its routers. The prosecutor’s office also insisted on disciplinary charges.
On 13 December it was reported that Gavrilovsky district prosecutor’s office of Tambov region had, in the course of its audit of compliance with the law on combating extremist activity, identified materials recognised as extremist to be publicly accessible via the Gavrilovsky district library computer. Prosecutors demanded that the library administration restrict access to websites containing material aimed at inciting social, racial and religious hatred by installing filtering software on the library router.
It became known on 13 December that the Kirov district prosecutor’s office of Ufa region had found that the local post office computers allow access to websites containing extremist materials and instructions for manufacturing drugs. The prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit against the post office demanding that it install content filters to block the identified sites. The court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office.
On 13 December the results of the audit of compliance with the legislation aimed at protecting children from harmful material were announced. The audit was conducted by the Pereslavl-Zalessky interdistrict prosecutor’s office. During the inspection two of the city schools were found to offer unrestricted access to the websites that contained pornography and propaganda for racial, ethnic and religious inequality. Administrative charges were brought against the principals; the head of the department of education received an order to cease the violations.
On 17 December the Tambov regional prosecutor’s office reported on an audit of compliance with anti-extremist legislation conducted by the Sosnovsky district prosecutor’s office. The audit established that computers installed in the main hall of the Sosnovka village post office provided access to a website that featured material recognised as extremist by court decisions and aimed at inciting national and religious hatred. The head of the Sosnovsky Post Office received an order to cease the violations and bring disciplinary charges against perpetrators.
Reports on 20 December said that the prosecutor’s office in Mariinsky district in Kemerovo region found in the course of inspection that, despite the installed content filters, computers in all city schools allowed users to visit sites containing extremist materials. The prosecutor’s office has sent an order to end the violations to the head of the Mariinsky district education office.
On 26 December it was reported that Iznoskovsk district prosecutor’s office of Kaluga region had in the course of inspection of the Iznoskovsk secondary school found pornographic and extremist websites to be accessible from a school computer. The prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit against the district administration, demanding that it provide funding for the installation of content filters on school computers. In addition, the ISP Rostelecom and the school principal received orders to cease the violations.
The Tambov regional prosecutor’s office announced on 27 December its audit of the Kirsanovsky rural post office in the village of Umet. The audit revealed that the two post office computers provided access to the websites featuring material recognised as extremist. The prosecutor’s office sent an order to the head of the Kirsanovsky post office to cease the violations and to consider disciplinary charges against perpetrators.
On 28 December it was reported that the Leninsky district prosecutor in Tambov region had filed a court claim against the Tambov branch of Rostelecom, demanding that it restrict access to websites containing information on various ways to commit suicide. The court granted the prosecutor’s request and ordered the internet service provider to limit access to these sites by installing DNS-level filtering of domain names.
On 7 December the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District prosecutor’s office reported that students in a school in the town of Pyt-Yakh were found to have unfettered access to a website that advertised illegal drugs and smoking mixtures. Based on the audit results, the town prosecutor’s office issued an order to the ISP Tehnoservisgrupp demanding that public access to the site be blocked.
On 13 December it was reported that the prosecutor’s office of Chapaevsk in Samara region, in the course of monitoring the internet for promotion of illegal drugs, identified several sites that advertised sales of psychotropic substances. The prosecutor’s office filed nine claims with the Leninsky district court of Samara against ISPs on 3 December, demanding that they restrict access to these sites. The claims have been accepted by the court for review.
It became known on 13 December that the court had upheld a claim by the Leninsky district prosecutor’s office of Magnitogorsk, requiring three ISPs to restrict access to an online store selling poisonous and psychotropic substances. The store website had been identified by the prosecutor’s office in the course of the internet monitoring.
On 19 December it was reported that the prosecutor’s office of Armavir had identified 21 websites containing information on the ways to manufacture and use drugs, as well as their points of sale. The city prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit against the ISPs demanding that access to these sites be restricted.
On 13 December it was reported that the Federal Drug Control Service had added the portal for the Meder Beauty cosmetics brand www.mederbeauty.com to the register of banned sites. The ISP Beeline blocked the site. A large number of websites were using the same IP-address, and the FDCS only had issues with one of these sites. As of 15 December the portal, once again, was accessible to public.
On 4 December it became known that the Stavropol regional prosecutor’s office had in the course of an audit found more than 30 publicly accessible websites offering educational certificates for sale. The prosecutor’s office filed court claims against the ISPs Rostelecom and Equant, demanding that access to these sites be blocked. The court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office in full.
It became known on 6 December that the Soviet district court in Orel had dismissed the prosecutor’s office claim against the ISP Resurs Svyaz, requesting to block access to Wikipedia.
The prosecutor’s office had demanded that access to the Wikipedia “Russian obscenities” page be restricted for students of School No 22. The prosecutor’s office also insisted on blocking the website for Versailles Entertainment Center, which, according to the prosecutors, was advocating the use of “laughing gas”. In the course of the trial it became clear that the plaintiff had conducted no research on whether the pages in question truly contained any prohibited content, and whether the Wikipedia page in fact contained obscenities. The ISP said that if it was forced to block this page, its clients would probably lose access to the whole of Wikipedia.
In addition, it was found that students of Orel had not been aware of these pages prior to the prosecutor’s investigation, and had never viewed them, visiting only the websites recommended by the Ministry of Education. Visits to the “Russian obscenities” Wikipedia page grew 20-fold as a result of the prosecutor’s office investigation.
The court decided to reject the request of the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor has 30 days to appeal the decision.
On 4 December it was announced that on 30 November Yoshkar-Ola city court had upheld the claim of the prosecutor’s office of the Republic to block access to the website that contained information “inciting corrupt behavior”. The website posted an article on “How to give a bribe” along with comments, where readers shared their respective experiences.
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 126.96.36.199 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)
In July the Russian parliament approved a bill designed to increase the Kremlin’s control of the internet. The new laws grant the government sweeping powers to block access to internet resources.
Russian Wikipedia blacked out to protest the law claiming that it would “lead to the creation of a Russian analogue to China’s great firewall”. Campaigners fear the new rules will lead to widespread censorship. Even though the law doesn’t come into effect until November, Russian internet service providers are already coming under pressure to block internet resources and services.
Here, Andrei Soldatov tells us what Russia censored in September