Russia’s next presidential election is coming up in March 2018, and while Vladimir Putin is widely expected to seek and win a six-year term, new legislation he just signed makes some people think he is taking no chances. President Putin put into law bans on the use of internet proxy services and new restrictions on using chatting applications, which was justified as needed to prevent the spread of extremist ideas and materials. Speculation is that this law which goes into effect on November 1, 2017, is more about preventing Russian citizens from posting, reading or in anyway spreading ideas and materials of political dissent. But seeing one government use the cover of preventing terrorism in some fashion as a guise to legalize bans on internet privacy is something we all should be concerned and on guard against.
Details of this new legislation include a ban on using technology to surf the web anonymously like proxy servers, virtual private networks (VPNs) and other anonymizers. In countries like Russia and China where the government tries to block content they don’t want their citizens to see, people access blocked content by routing connections via proxies through servers abroad. To make sure the law is enforced internet providers will be forced to block websites that offer proxy or VPN services. It is unlikely that these new restrictions will be applied to Russian sponsored hackers, but one could hope we suppose. The other separate legislation that has come to be on the initiative of the Security Council of Russia and which goes into effect on January 1st, 2018, requires that chat applications basically identify their client users through their phone numbers.
China is mentioned as one of the countries that block content because they run what is thought to be the most restrictive online censorship campaign, amusingly coined as the Great Firewall, that blocks VPN’s, emails like Gmail and Outlook, and social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.