U.S. official criticize Russia’s Internet laws

A top U.S. official on Thursday criticized the new Internet law in Russia that won approval in the lower house of the Parliament Wednesday, saying it could limit free speech and civil rights.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, on Thursday called the measure “a troubling and dangerous direction.”


Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski (Harry Hamburg/AP)

“The world’s experience with the Internet provides a clear lesson: a free and open Internet promotes economic growth and freedom; restricting the free flow of information is bad for consumers, businesses, and societies,” he said in a statement.

Lawmakers and regulators have expressed concerns over Russia’s efforts and similar proposals in other nations, saying new laws could overreach and stifle Web companies and free speech on the Internet.

Russia’s measure, presented as a way to protect children by eliminating Web sites devoted to child pornography, pedophilia, illegal drug use and suicide, won broad support in the State Duma, or lower house, where 441 of 450 members voted for it, according to The Post’s Kathy Lally in Moscow.

Lally’s story explains how the bill could go too far, according to critics: A commenter could post a link to child pornography on a blogger’s page, for example, and the government would have the authority to close down the entire page. The page would remain closed while its owner attempted to prove he was not responsible for the illegal reference.

The bill concerns bloggers and public interest groups. Wikipedia’s Russian language site went dark on Tuesday in protest of the measure.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said the law would have the same chilling effects of a U.S. proposal known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that drew similar protest from U.S. companies and consumers.

“Anything that causes it to be difficult for the volunteers to share information... is an anathema to us. We will always be quite keen on these issues,” Wales said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters and editors at The Washington Post. Wales is in Washington D.C. for the annual gathering of Wikipedia editors and contributors called Wikimania.

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.

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