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Glasnost Defence Foundation: Is the threat of Internet censorship becoming a reality?

Source: (info), 01/11/11 
Original source: GDF weekly digest No 543, 31 October

In recent days there have been news reports about the intentions of two government bodies to begin monitoring Internet media (and not only the Internet) for publications that violate Russian law. The monitoring will focus on publications about the first persons of the Russian state, and also about disasters, emergencies and crimes.

Roskomnadzor, the Federal Inspectorate for Communications, Information Technology and Media, will from December begin round-the-clock monitoring of Internet media with the help of special software that will search for ‘words, expressions and other specified content from a list provided by officials.’ Moreover, the number of key words included in this glossary is expected to reach five million. A special point is made of saying that the purpose of the project is not to put pressure on the mainstream media, but rather it is individual, excessively radical, bloggers who may have problems.

Nor has the Ministry of Justice remained on the sidelines. Novye izvestiya reports that this Ministry also intends to monitor materials published in the media and on the Internet. Moreover, the materials to be monitored will be grouped according to themes: communications about the President of the Russian Federation, the Prime Minister, legislation, and the problems of law enforcement. At the same time the monitoring system will differentiate between positive and negative publications about the Ministry of Justice and about the minister himself.

So we can see that the declared purposes are, as always, noble.

However, a number of questions arise. For example, how will the list of ‘words, expressions and other specified content’ to be used by Roskomnadzor be drawn up? What will be the response to violations, and indeed what will be considered a violation? And what will happen once the list of key words has grown to the five million mentioned? Something says that it will be difficult to call a halt to such an engrossing undertaking ...

Foreseeing the negative reaction of the press, the Ministry of Justice has rushed to calm fears: the system is necessary for the internal needs of the Ministry, for the press service. Moreover, similar monitoring is being conducted at present with no bad consequences. But this version – ‘for internal needs’ – does not appear convincing. This is all the more so since it is not known what the reaction of officials to ‘negative’ information will be, especially in the regions, where sometimes, as we know, officials like to take an excessively creative approach to recommendations coming from the centre.

Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation commented: ‘I am sorry to say I don’t like this idea. Why does the Ministry of Justice need to do this? It’s hardly the case that the press service of the Ministry of Justice is responsible for the PR of the top government officials and therefore needs to follow news of this kind! I do not believe this. This is all some kind of deception.’, meanwhile, has published some interesting information: a few days ago on the Internet there appeared a ‘Barrack Room Blog’ – the diary of a young conscript in a military unit. The creators of the Real Army project that is dedicated to the problems of the Russian army found this blog and contacted the author. They obtained permission to republish the texts and in a few days the blog became very popular. Readers hardly found out anything new about service in today’s army (hazing, blackmail by senior soldiers, officers’ brutality, theft). Nonetheless, soon the twitter account of the soldier-writer was hacked, all his previous entries about life in the army disappeared, and instead of them there appeared a link to a porn website. The blogger himself ceased to make contact.

It seems that censorship of the Internet may soon become a reality. Or has it already done so?

Rights in Russia,
3 Nov 2011, 07:29