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Russian lawmakers move to ban VPNs and Internet anonymizers

Lawmakers from three different parties in the State Duma have submitted draft legislation to ban technologies that make it possible to circumvent Internet censorship. In the law’s explanatory note, the Duma deputies argue that Russia’s existing system to block illegal content on the Web is “not effective enough.”

Representing United Russia, Just Russia, and the Communist Party, the three lawmakers say the country’s ability to police the Internet is hindered by search engines that provide links to content banned in Russia, and by “technologies that allow users to gain access to blocked information resources.”

The legislation would ban the use of any software that grants users access to Web content that’s been banned in Russia, including virtual private network (VPN) services and Internet anonymizers, like the Tor browser. If adopted, the law would ban any online resources that provide access to such censorship-circumvention software.

The bill’s sponsors would give the owners of VPN networks and Internet anonymizers access to Russia’s registry of blocked online resources, so they could cut access to these websites. Any Internet circumvention tools that refuse to block access to banned resources would themselves be blocked.

Dmitry Marinichev, Russia's presidential Internet commissioner, has criticized the Duma's proposed ban on VPNs and anonymizers, calling it “madness” that “runs counter to common sense.” Marinichev warns that Russian officials will be unable to differentiate between VPNs used for commercial purposes and VPNs used to circumvent censorship. The Internet commissioner also compared the legislation to a theoretical ban on door locks and window curtains, accusing lawmakers of wanting to deprive citizens of basic privacies.

The State Duma is also considering legislation that would block “mirrors” for piracy websites, requiring Internet search engines to remove links to such content. Lawmakers approved a first draft of this legislation in March 2017.

In early May, after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko banned several major Russian Internet resources, the Russian state-run television network Rossiya 24 aired instructions for using Internet anonymizers to circumvent government censorship.

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