In Russia, a bill further restricting internet freedom and privacy has come close to becoming law. The bill finally takes steps to prevent the public from using Tor, VPNs, and web proxies. All that remains before the bill becomes a law is the signature of President Vladimir Putin. Both the Russian Parliament and the Russian Federation Council approved the bill in late July.
Russia is well known for the alleged suppression of free speech through state-sponsored censorship all the way down to physical abuse of reporters and journalists. Although the Russian constitution enables the freedom of speech and freedom of press, this has rarely been reflected in reports from journalist advocacy groups and freedom of speech organizations—the majority of which operate outside of Russia. For example, in 2013, Russia ranked 148 out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index.
Yet another example of the possible extremes taken by Russian state or federal institution was recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists. According to a 2006 report, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Russia the third most dangerous country for a journalist to visit.
Now, Russia will be the first country to truly implement anti-circumvention laws against Tor, VPN services, and proxies. (The United Arab Emirates blocked the use of “fraudulent IP addresses” in 2016, but not specific clients or services). Assuming Russia’s law comes into play before February 1, 2018, Russia will beat China in the movement to ban Tor, proxies, and VPNs. in fact, in Russia, Director of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, asked the Russian Parliament to “speed up the adoption of several laws,” one of which was the VPN law introduced on June 8.
The impending amendments to the law on information technology and information protection was allegedly designed to “improve the effectiveness of restricting access to information resources, access to which is restricted in Russia legally.” However, as early as 2016, Russia began interrupting VPN and proxy services through any legal framework possible. Kproxy, a proxy that once landed on the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media’s internet “blacklist.” Not, at the time, for allowing anonymous access to the internet, but for allowing access to restricted or illegal sites in Russia. Kproxy then implemented a “blacklist” that mirrored the Russian government’s and received legal permission to operate again.
This will technically be the same way that proxy services, VPNs, and the Tor Browser will be allowed to survive under the new law. Any service or site will be blocked if they fail to implement the Russian government’s internet blacklist. The Tor Project is unlikely to block some of the sites on the “forbidden” list. Although they did not act in official capacity directed Towards Turkey, the Tor Bridges guide demonstrates the Project’s willingness to aid in avoiding state censorship. (This is in reference to the routine Tor outages in Turkey for political reasons).
While the blacklist ends access to “extremist “ sites and child abuse media, it also blocks other, unrelated sites, often under highly controversial pretences. For instance, in 2013, the the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (aka Roskomnadzor) blocked Wikipedia on account of a Wikipedia article titled “Smoking Cannabis.” (After a complete rewrite of the violating page, Wikipedia was taken off the registry of banned sites).
The DeepDotWeb list of ranked VPNs may prove more useful than usual in the coming days, “Best VPN Service Comparison Chart.”