Saturday, August 1, 2015

Moscow Now Seeking to Ban Means Russians Use to Get Around Its Blocking of Web Sites

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 1 – Because Russians have learned the various techniques they can employ to get around Moscow’s blocking of web sites they want to visit, the Russian government agency responsible for imposing the Kremlin-mandated information blockade is now seeking to ban these techniques as well.

            But experts say that this is a fool’s errand not only because there are so many anonymizers available, Anna Baidakova of “Novaya gazeta” reports, but also because a good programmer can create a new one in a few hours, making any effort to impose Chinese-style censorship almost hopeless (

            Nonetheless, she writes, this shift in tactics is important because it signals the Kremlin’s intention to cut Russians off from sources of information Vladimir Putin and his entourage do not want them to see even at the cost of frightening off foreign investment by rendering themselves absurd.

            “Roskomnadzor is changing tactics,” Baidakova writes. “The next target of the censorship agency is the means people use to get around its blocking.” Thus, she says, Russia is “moving from ‘prohibited content’ to ‘prohibited instruments,’” a step that goes beyond the letter of the law and that is likely to fail.

            Nonetheless, the “Novaya gazeta” journalist say, the first such bans on these techniques have been put in place by prosecutors and courts and implemented by Roskomnadzor. One of the first such anonymizers banned was (, but there have been others as well.

            The journalist attempted to get Rozkomnadzor to comment but did not get an answer. Experts in the field, however, were quite ready to criticize this latest move.  “Technically, it is clear that this is completely absurd,” Sergey Golubitsky, an IT-journalist said. “There are “hundreds” of anonymizers, and however many you close, others will be opened.”

            Vladimir Kharitonov, executive direction of the Association of Internet Publishers, adds that “an experienced programmer can create a new anonymizer in an hour.” Thus, “the tactic of Roskomnadzor so far is not too effective,” and he says that those who want to see this or that site will still be able to use various means to get to the sites they are interested in.

            Golubitsky is more pessimistic about what the latest development means. He argues that “Russia is slowly moving toward the Chinese variant of regulating the Internet, that is, to a ban on everything that is not officially permitted. In China,” he notes, “the ‘Golden Shield’ system works” with “servers filtering all traffic between Chinese providers and the worldwide web.”

            China may be able to get away with this without much difficulty, he says, but Russia cannot. “No one will invest in a country with such repressive laws. China is a branch of the producers of American products, a factory for the entire world. The Americans invest not in China but in their own production. But in Russia, the last foreign factories are closing.”

            “If nothing changes,” the IT-journalist says, “a year from now, the [Russian] economy will be in ruins."

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