The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russia’s secret new Internet blacklist

A few months after passing a controversial Internet-filtering law, Russia has blacklisted more than 180 Web sites for offensive content.

With a stated goal of protecting children from offensive content, Russia passed a law in July that granted the government the right to block access to sites containing child pornography, drug-related material and details about suicide without first obtaining a court order.

“Our experts are working hard and today more than 180 Web sites have been added to the register,” Russian Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor chief Aleksandr Zharov told RIA Novosti, adding that the agency is  considering an additional  6,000 complaints about offensive content.

The Russian news service reported:

The site reviews complaints lodged by members of the public, who can submit screenshots and URLs of the offending sites. In the first 24 hours of its existence, logged over 5,000 complaints of offensive content, 96 percent of which were rejected.

Roskomnadzor has a Web site for the registry, but rather than publishing an actual "blacklist," users are made to enter a specific Web address to check whether it has been placed on the list. Once notified that their content is offensive, the owner must remove offensive content or block access within three days.

Among the blacklist's casualties is the suicide prevention site, which was ordered to take down a page detailing suicide methods.

When the law passed, the The Post's Kathy Lally wrote that it worried many Russian journalists and activists because it was so broad that even vulgar language could be deemed an offense.

“Civic activists, journalists and politicians all have grounds to be nervous,” said Alexander Morozov, a blogger and director of the Center for Media Research. “It could be applied to all kinds of statements on the Web. And we do not have acquittals in our courts.”

The country's telecom minister, Nikolai Nikiforov, has shrugged off such concerns, pointing out "socially responsible" Internet companies like LiveJournal, YouTube and Facebook that Russia won't block "unless they refuse to follow Russian laws."

"Internet has always been a free territory," he said in a report by Russian news agency Tass.

The Internet-blocking law was one of a series of measures passed over the summer aimed at stamping out dissent. In June, the Duma passed a law drastically raising fines for protesters who violate the rules for holding a demonstration and one requiring nongovernmental organizations that do political work to register as foreign agents.