New Russian internet restrictions decried as online ‘iron curtain’

More than 15,000 people took to the streets of Moscow yesterday (10 March) to decry the latest round of oppressive internet restrictions to be supported by Russia’s government. The demonstrations were some of the biggest protests that the Russian capital had seen in years and similar protests were held in other cities.

The protests were called after Russian parliament backed a controversial bill last month that allows Russia to isolate its internet service from the rest of the world. The bill, entitled a “digital sovereignty bill”, requires Russian telecoms firms to be able to reroute all internet traffic to exchange points hosted by the Russian telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor. The bill has passed through the country’s lower house, with a second vote on the cards for later in the month. After this, Russian president Vladimir Putin will sign the bill into law.

The government claims that this will improve cybersecurity and prevent foreign meddling in Russian affairs, yet many have deemed it an online “iron curtain” that could be used to suppress dissenting voices. According to Reuters, protesters screamed “hands off the internet” and “no to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet”. Activists fear that if left unchecked, the hand of the Russian state will reach further into the lives and sovereignty of its citizens.

“If we do nothing, it will get worse. The authorities will keep following their own way and the point of no return will be passed,” explained 28-year-old protester Dmitry, who declined to give his full name to a Reuters reporter.

According to other activists on Twitter, 15 protesters from the Moscow rally have been detained by authorities, but the Russian police force has yet to officially announce any arrests.

The Russian government blocked messaging app Telegram in April 2018, a move that was met with public opprobrium both in Russia and around the world. The Russian telecoms watchdog banned more than 15m IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google, claiming they were being used by Telegram.

This move, Google later confirmed to TechCrunch, had a knock-on effect on the internet giant’s proprietary services such as Gmail, Android push notifications and Google Search.

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