Russia’s Internet Bill is not an isolated case of internet supervision, rather just a symptom of the global trend.
The country most connected to the internet in Europe is not the United Kingdom, France, or Germany, but rather Russia. Already possessing 67 million internet users, this number is poised to rise to 90 million by the end of the decade. In March, Russian authorities began blocking content to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube over material it deemed to be harmful to Russian citizens. The original legislation that allowed the Russian authorities to do so was created to protect children by blocking content that could be harmful to them, including child pornography. So far the Russian government has acted by targeting groups that promote suicide, or illegal activities. The legislation unfortunately could lead to future abuse by allowing the Russian government to censure whatever content it wishes. Additionally President Putin has made it clear he intends to support more iInternet-restricting legislation in the future.
That the Russian government would enact such measures is not a surprise. After all, it is no secret that Russia is not a free country. Russia ranks 139th on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Freedom and is rated as “Not Free” by Freedom House. However by no means is Russia the only state to try to curb internet freedoms under the guise of protecting the young. Last year Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews attempted to introduce a bill that give Canadian authorities lawful access to Canadian internet users without a warrant before the bill was quietly dropped after a substantial backlash. A similar situation developed in the United Kingdom as well. The bill was described by Toews as a means for the Canadian government to combat child pornography, the same reasoning used by Russia.
In 2011, Congressional representative Lamar S. Smith (the author of SOPA as well) introduced the Protection of Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. While undoubtedly the bill has a good stated cause, its desire to have all internet service providers retain information that would be readily accessible to American authorities, with no warrant required, is troubling. Organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the bill on the basis that it would violate the privacy of Americans.
The global trend is toward internet freedom is clear. States, regardless of government type, are seeking to make up ground after years of outdated laws. In order to make these bills more palatable to the public, states such as Russia and Canada are justifying their attempts to increase internet surveillance under the guise of protecting children. With regard to the internet, these states are now attempting to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. While the Russian government at present is targeting illegal activities and posts encouraging suicide, it remains more than likely that its internet surveillance will increase in scope and cause. What should trouble observers is that Russia is far from the only country attempting to do so.