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Russia enacted its own SOPA the day it granted Snowden asylum

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

NSA leaker Edward Snowden left a Moscow airport Thursday after Russia granted him a year of temporary asylum. But Snowden should take note: the current regime has a very questionable record at respecting digital civil liberties.

Russia just enacted its own version of SOPA.

Russia recently passed a law that will block any Web site aiding copyright infringement (which might be as simple as a user linking to a place where pirated material is available) if it doesn't respond within three days. Many Internet activists are calling it the "Russian SOPA" after the controversial anti-piracy legislation that failed in the United States after online outrage. It was enacted on Thursday, the same day Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden.

The offline response has been subdued, with around 300 people protesting the law in the flesh outside the Kremlin, but the online response has been more aggressive. Thousands of Russian Web sites went on a "web strike" displaying the word "blackout" on their front page in protest. Yandex, the most popular search engine in Russia, posted a statement condemning the bill. A petition to repeal that law is over 78 percent of the way to the 100,000 digital signatures threshold required for a response on the Russian equivalent of We The People and over 146,000 on another online petition site.

Russia's WCIT proposal would have made it easier for it to censor and spy on its citizens.

Russia's proposal at the last World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) called for the Internet to be regulated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N. agency, and for member states to have the "sovereign right to [...] regulate the national Internet segment."

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet and now of Google, voiced concerns such control would lead to '"top-down control dictated by governments" and have detrimental effects on freedom of expression and security. The Russian proposal garnered support from the UAE, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan, but was ultimately withdrawn after objections from the United States and others.

Russia has an Internet blacklist that is used to censor political speech. And the tech used to enforce it can be used for surveillance. 

Putin signed an Internet filtering law aimed at "protecting the children" from harmful content in July 2012. But Wired reported court decisions were extending the Single Register of banned sites created by that measure to include political speech by opponents of the Putin regime, and that Russia was relying on Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to enforce the blacklist.

DPI is a network management practice that involves looking into the packets that speed across networks to determine how best to route them. But while it can have legitimate uses, it's also been used as a cost-effective tool to suppress freedom of expression -- including by former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

Eric King, head of research at Privacy International was quoted in Wired claiming “No Western democracy has yet implemented a dragnet black-box DPI surveillance system due to the crushing effect it would have on free speech and privacy," adding "DPI allows the state to peer into everyone’s internet traffic and read, copy or even modify e-mails and webpages."

Russian politicians are trying to ban online swearing.

Some Russia politicians want the current Internet blacklist to go even further. State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina recently put forth a proposal requiring sites to be added to it if swear words aren't removed from the Internet.

Obviously, Russia's efforts to control the Internet don't make Snowden's leaks about U.S. surveillance any less revealing or important, but they do add a layer of irony to his flight.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.



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