February 7-13 2015
Russian Ministry of Communications seeks to muzzle foreign media outlets
On February 16th 2015, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Mass Communications will consider amendments to the Media law enabling to shut down foreign media outlets which violate anti-extremism laws. Amendments will establish a registration procedure for media outlets with foreign financing. The new regulation will introduce a compulsory registration and an authorisation to work in Russia for all foreign-financed or foreign-registered media outlets. Authorities can refuse to register media sources which violate anti-extremism regulations or publish unreliable information. The specifics of how authorities would determine if a media source violated the law are still unclear. Russian anti-extremism laws are broad and can apply to any sort of information including religious caricatures, giving authorities wide berth in determining which media outlets to allow, and which to ban.
Kyrgyzstan will block websites without a court order
On February 9th 2015, the Chairman of the National Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan, Rustam Mamasadykov, announced that the Committee will block websites without prior court permission. According to Mr. Mamasadykov, the out-of-court procedure will prevent distribution of extremist information on the Internet and become an effective method of combatting online extremism and terrorist recruitment. The Chairman also claimed that it is necessary to implement licensing procedure for websites and shut down any websites which may pose a threat to national security. The strategy lead to heated debates because deputies had concerns that the proposed legislation could significantly restrict freedom of speech. For example, Deputy Bakhtiyar Kadyrov claimed it is possible to find extremist content in nearly any comment.
Ukrtelecom accused of financing Ukrainian armed forces
On February 8th 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Crimea brought criminal charges against Ukrainian operator Ukrtelecom. Authorities accused the operator of financing extremist activities and raided teh Ukrtelecom office in Simferopol on the same day. According to the charges, Ukrtelecom transferred 1m rubles to the National Guard of Ukraine, an umbrella organisation that contains groups the Russian government recognises as extremist, such as Praviy Sector and the Azov Battalion. The Ukrtelecom press office claims that the charges have no legitimate grounds and the operators acted within the legal limits. Notably, the investigation followed the request of workers of the Crimean branch of Ukrtelecom for the nationalisation of the Crimean branch in the first week of February. On February 11th 2015, Crimean State Council decided to nationalise the Crimean branch of Ukrtelecom.
Banning Tor in Russia
Russian deputy Leonid Levin introduced a bill restricting access to anonymity networks like Tor (The Onion Router). Tor enables anonymous communications and makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity back to a specific user. Mr Levin claims that banning Tor will prevent access to illegal content, malicious software, and illegal access to personal data. The Russian Safe Internet League supports the initiative to block anonymizers. The CEO of the Safe Internet League, Denis Davydov, said that it is possible to block anonymity networks within Russia by restricting access to networks from Russian ISPs. However, banning anonymizers can also affect journalists, political and human rights activists as it will enable to trace their identity and location. Activists and journalists worldwide use Tor and other anonymity networks to report abuses and discuss sensitive topics.
Twitter refused to co-operate with Russian regulator
On February 10th 2015, Alexander Zharov, the head of Roskomnadzor, said that Twitter had not complied with any of the Regulator’s requests to disclose traffic information on 108 accounts. Mr. Zharov noted that the company had complied with 3000 requests from the US authorities but refuses to co-operate with Roskomnadzor. Roskomnadzor sent an official letter to Twitter requesting an explanation for its non-compliance with Russian regulations. Tensions between Twitter and Roskomnadzor started after the enactment of the Law on Bloggers, which required compulsory registration of all bloggers with more than 3000 daily views and classified them as mass media. Twitter claimed that it cannot provide information on daily traffic for its microblogs. Talks between the company and Roskomnadzor on December 8th 2014 established a direct communication channel for the regulator but this has not yet served to smooth relations between the two bodies.
Russian social networks and pirated content
Social-networking sites VK and Odnoklassniki are facing problems because of the proliferation of pirated content on their networks. On February 10th 2015, the International Intellectual Property Association (IIPA) recommended that the United States Trade Representative include Russia in Special Report 301, including countries which do not provide adequate protection of intellectual property rights. IIPA noted that popular social networks VK and Odnoklassniki are major distributors of pirated content. For this reason Apple requested VK restrict access to audio files on February 11th 2015. VK complied with the company’s request, removing the VK music player.