Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moscow to Shift Focus from Blocking Internet Sites to Tracking Users, Nikiforov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – Russia’s communication minister, Nikolay Nikoforov, says that the existing Russian system of blocking objectionable websites isn’t working because users find it too easy to employ workarounds and, as a result, Moscow is considering putting in place a system that will track all users of all sites.

            Nikiforov made that declaration about what would be a fundamental, difficult and likely enormously expensive shift in Russian policy to the Duma yesterday during the government hour, Anatoly Komrakov reports in today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta (

            “We are still acting in an outdated way,” the minister said. “The internet and digital technologies are developing in such a way that the method of blocking does not allow us to achieve the desired result and for every case of blocking, people will always think up technologies that will allow them to go around it.”

            The government recognizes, as was announced by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in July, that it needs to be more “pro-active” and effective, Nikoforov continued. It needs in real time to know which people are looking at which sites and thus getting information that violates Russian law and threatens the national security of the country.

            Such an approach will require the development of new technologies. Along with this, Nikiforov says, by 2024, the Russian government hopes to reduce to under five percent the share of domestic Russian traffic which passes through servers based abroad. That will cost an estimated 100 billion rubles (1.6 billion US dollars).

            Pavel Butenko of the Intouch innovation company, told Nezavisimaya gazeta that Nikiforov “in essence” has said that he and his ministry want “to concentrate attention not on the blocking of resources but on citizens who gain access to prohibited content.” Once such people are identified, he said, the government can impose sanctions on them.

            The expert suggested that it will be some time before the regime can make a transition to this approach.  Another specialist, Ilyas Sharapov of the TSS Security Company, says that this will involve using Big Data and then using that to draw conclusions about what is getting through to Russians.

            Sharapov said that he would expect the future policy to involve both blocking and tracking rather than the replacement of one by the other.  He and other specialists suggested that this approach would be extremely expensive, something that could be a problem in the current period of budgetary stringency.

            And the cost may be a serious obstacle unless it can somehow be passed on to users.  Indeed, budget problems are already forcing Moscow to consider cutting the staff of the notorious Center E which fights extremism (  and

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