Russian Duma approves controversial bill that could ‘break internet’



Russian lawmakers have passed the third reading of a controversial bill designed to create a fully autonomous local internet

Dismissing criticism that the bill represented pulling the plug on the global internet, over two-thirds of deputies voted in favour in the Tuesday morning vote. The bill now passes to its next, largely pro forma stages – discussion in the upper house (on 22 April) and then presidential approval (soon thereafter).

Officially described as a bill to enable the “reliable” functioning of the Russian internet in the case of an “attack” from abroad, the new law is seen by some as a first stage towards creating a Chinese-style firewall. 

The measures introduced legislate to divert Russian internet traffic through pre-approved exchange points and to force ISPs to install new network equipment with the aim of restricting anonymity. The law would also build up a parallel domain name system to allow the Russian internet to function independently in the event it is cut off. 

The legislation comes against the backdrop of a downtick in President Putin’s personal ratings amid five years of economic stagnation. 

Since coming to power in August 1999, the Russian president has overseen a steady increase in censorship, starting with television, before moving to mainstream print media, and now the internet. 

But while few doubt the Kremlin’s intentions to introduce even more control over what Russians can and can’t see, there are some questions over whether they have the technical capacity to implement the measures.

Last year, authorities attempted to ban the Telegram app. Embarrassingly, the messenger service was able to circumvent their efforts by hiding behind other servers. For many days, vast parts of the Russian internet were blocked off as the state engaged in a virtual – and ultimately unsuccessful – game of cat and mouse. 

As of today, Telegram remains largely functional.



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