Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Moscow Both Dramatically Increased Restrictions on Internet Freedom Last Year and Shifted Its Approach in Doing So, Agora Monitoring Group Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – Today, the international human rights group Agor released its annual report on the state of Internet freedom in the Russian Federation in 2018. That state is not good. It said that the authorities engaged in 662,842 specific moves to limit free access, up from 115,706 in 2017.

            Two-thirds of the restrictions this year involved limiting access by blocking sites. Most of the other third concerned the prohibition of various kinds of information that Russian government agencies and courts have banned in the country (agora.legal/news/2019.02.05/Doklad-Agory-662-842-fakta-ogranicheniya-svobody-interneta-zafiksirovany/883).

            Not only did the total number of such interventions increase for the Russian Federation as a whole, but the number of regions where Agora judges the situation to be serioius increased from 26 in 2017 to 41 in 2018, a continuation of a trend the monitoring group has pointed to in each of the last four years. 

            But if that was a continuation of earlier trends, there was a new development this year which the authors of the Agora report suggest indicates that the future may be even worse for those who seek to use the Internet.

            That development is this, the authors say, “having recognizing that blocking at the level of Internet providers is ineffective and recognizing the reputational risks which mass criminal persecution of ordinary users entail, the Russian powers that be hope to control the internet” in a different way.

            They want to force the major services to cooperate and thus monopolize the market of access to the Internet.  That means, the report says, that Moscow and its representatives in the region will be using these new means more than some of the old ones, possibly allowing Moscow to claim it is liberalizing when in fact it is continuing to crack down. 

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