Russia's Sovereign Internet Law has come into effect, giving the Kremlin massive new oversight powers over the Web. The law, which was passed earlier this year, enables the Russian government to disconnect Internet completely or from traffic outside Russia in an emergency.
The law requires Internet service providers to install software that can track, filter, and reroute internet traffic, Human Rights Watch had reported. This technology allows the government's telecommunications watchdog to independently and extrajudicially block access to content that the government deems a threat.
What does it mean for Russian Internet users?
Though the Russian government has said law is meant only to improve cyber security and that normal users would not notice any change once it is rolled out, internet experts think otherwise. Critics say the government headed by Vladimir Putin is creating an internet firewall similar to the one that exists in China. When the filtering technology is applied nation-wide, the internet users will feel substantial limitations, it is feared.
"Now the government can directly censor content or even turn Russia's Internet into a closed system without telling the public what they are doing or why ... This jeopardizes the right of people in Russia to free speech and freedom of information online," Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch's deputy Europe and Central Asia director, said.
The law proves that the Russian leadership is ready to bring the entire network infrastructure under political control in order to cut off the digital information flow whenever needed
Combined with other laws recently passed by the Kremlin, such as the one outlawing "disrespect" of government officials and the spread of fake news, the new law gives unmatched powers to the government wings in controlling the flow of data and information within the country.
Russia had earlier made an unsuccessful attempt to block popular messaging app Telegram. But the regulator's attempt to block it using IP addresses failed and Telegram is widely available in Russia. Observers say that Telegram could be the first victim of the new protocol.
Russia moves in China's direction?
Unde the Russian firewall, internet service providers (ISPs) must install network equipment known as deep packet inspection (DPI). The equipment identifies the source of traffic and filter the online content, allowing the Kremlin's telecom watchdog Roskomnadzor to decide what site to be blocked and when.
In general this project helps the Russian government to eventually route the country's web traffic and data through state-controlled points rather than depend on foreign servers. The new protocol, when implemented, will give the government greater control over online content and communication.
"The law proves that the Russian leadership is ready to bring the entire network infrastructure under political control in order to cut off the digital information flow whenever needed," said Christian Mihr, from the group Reporters Without Borders, according to BBC.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov counters by saying that the government is only focused on preventing US cyberattacks. "No-one is suggesting cutting the Internet," he said, rubbishing the idea the law will be used to cut off Russia from the rest of the world.