Russia has long been known to censor its internet for its citizens. This time, it's trying to go even further by blocking VPN services which don't comply with its blacklist request.
Russia’s telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has approached 10 VPN services, many of which are very popular. They’ve been asked to implement the list of blocked websites within 30 days (until the end of April 2019).
And if they fail to do so, the government will block them throughout Russia.
The 10 VPNs are:
- VPN Unlimited.
- Kaspersky Secure Connection.
- Hola VPN.
Even though Russia's VPN-limiting laws came into action in 2017, when Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning VPNs and other tools that could be used to circumvent the country's extensive censorship of the internet, it wasn’t until this time that Russia has actually started to implement it.
The 10 VPNs in question are forced to block a large selection of websites, limiting their users from accessing any of those websites.
By blocking VPNs, or asking them to collect personal data, these services essentially turn ineffective to overcome censorship. And since VPNs are the most effective tools of this kind, blocking them is a huge win for Russia's autocratic governments.
If they comply, they will become just another tool for the Russian government to control the web. Using VPN as its tools, as an excuse of protecting their own citizens.
As a result, internet users in Russia are facing one of their biggest threats to their freedom of speech.
Since blocking websites goes against everything that VPNs stand for, following the statement, many of the above VPN services that don't want to betray the trust of their users, have started to shut down their services in Russia.
Previously, the Russian government has imposed internet censorship multiple times. This has been done under the excuse of protecting the nation’s safety.
It started back in 2012, when a list of blocked websites has been introduced. At that time, the blocked websites were related to alleged child pornography, drug- and extremist-related material, and other illegal types of content.
Even though the initial reasons were justifiable, the kinds of websites Russia started to block, soon varied.
In 2014, Russia introduced a new law oriented at bloggers with over 3,000 daily visitors. These individuals were forced to register with Russia’s Roskomnadzor. Throughout 2015 and 2016, a number of LGBT-related websites were blocked. In addition, Russia also introduced laws that forced telecommunications companies to store personal data of Russian citizens.
Since 2018, Russia has also blocked ProtonMail, which is a popular free email encryption service, often used by journalists, activities, and advocates of human rights.
Russia is also said to be developing its own internet system that is separate from the global internet.
But Russia in banning VPN services that don't comply with its request could be difficult to maintain properly.
The reason is because most of the services are not based in Russia, and this makes them tricky to ban in an effective way. Furthermore, Roskomnadzor is known to have frequently failed when it comes to blocking services based elsewhere, like Telegram, for example. Blocking the popular encrypted messaging app resulted in Russia in ruining its own internet.