Russia Plans to Cut Users Off From Global Internet

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Russian lawmakers have approved a bill which could allow the government to cut access to foreign servers, in a move critics believe could see the nation attempt to ape China’s fearsome censorship apparatus.

Passed in its second reading by an overwhelming 320 votes to 15, the legislation could become law by November 1, according to reports.

The government has claimed it could help enhance national security by helping Russia preempt any online attack or disruption from foreign powers.

Its supporters cite a US report unveiled by Donald Trump last year that blamed Russia for being a top cyber threat, giving the superpower a motive to use its offensive capabilities.

However, others believe the “sovereign internet” bill smacks more of an attempt by the authorities to try and mimic the Great Firewall — China’s censorship infrastructure which effectively cuts its 800 million netizens from the global internet, allowing only highly filtered traffic through.

This would seem to fit with concerns in the Kremlin about Russia’s over-reliance on US tech companies, which could put it at a strategic disadvantage during any geopolitical crisis. Vladimir Putin has described the internet as a “CIA project.”

“This law creates a framework whereby ISPs will be required to funnel all internet traffic in and out of the country through well-known choke points (Internet Exchanges). This would make it easier for the authorities to expand internet censorship, and isolate the nation from the global internet [during] times of conflict,” explained Ameet Naik, technical marketing director at ThousandEyes.

“However, this would also force internet traffic through sub-optimal paths, and through performance-limiting filtering gateways. This would most likely degrade the user experience for Russian users browsing sites and apps outside the country, and provide an advantage to services hosted within the country, as we’ve seen happen in China.”

Russia and China have for years been seeking to impose their alternative view of internet governance at the UN and other forums. However, critics describe ‘internet sovereignty’ as little more than a byword for censorship and oppression of online freedoms.

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