Russia and the Internet

Russian flagWe’ve all known for a long time that the Chinese have their own version of the Internet within the country. The Golden Shield, which the west has dubbed the “Great Firewall of China” is a huge government apparatus that closely monitors and edits everything that happens on the Chinese Internet.

And now we are perhaps seeing Russia starting down a similar path. There is a new Russian law that takes effect on September 1 that is going to start fundamentally changing the way the Internet works in that country. The law basically requires that anybody that obtains information online from a Russian citizen must store that data on servers that are physically located in Russia.

This law was ostensibly created to protect the country against the spying of the US government and the commercial tracking done by US corporations. But of course, this also provides a great tool for the Russian government to monitor everything going in and out of the country.

American companies like Google and Facebook are going to have to locate servers in Russia and abide by the Russian rules if they want to have Russian citizens using their services. Some of them will certainly do that, but you have to wonder in the future how many start-ups will make the effort to do this, and over time one would expect Russia to get more and more separated from the US Internet companies.

Probably of more concern are the various European companies that have a lot more Russian users than do the US companies. This change effectively walls Russia off from the rest of the world including its nearby neighbors and trading partners.

It’s unlikely for now that the Russians will go as far as the Chinese. The Chinese completely censor large parts of the content on the web including pornography, anything pro-democracy, religious content such as anything having to do with the Dalai Lama, anything having to do with Taiwan, anything having to do with protests inside the country, and anything else they decide to block. But still, for the Russians to know that their content is not leaving the country they are going to have to look at everything closely.

One would assume that the Russians will use the same techniques used by the Chinese to enforce the new law. This includes such things as IP blocking, DNS filtering and redirection, USL filtering, packet filtering, VPN recognition and blocking, and active IP probing.

I just wrote last week how the basic architecture of the Internet promotes freedom. While this architecture was originated largely in the US, over time much of the rest of the world has joined into the governance of the web and the basic architecture is now accepted by most countries.

But obviously Russia, China, and a few other countries have a very different view of what the web ought to be, and largely for totalitarian purposes of controlling their citizens. Anybody who has read any science fiction, even back to Orwell’s 1984, understands how the Internet could easily be turned into a tool of control.

What we are likely to see with Russia is the same thing we see today with China. Outside companies often come to China to create a presence and to expand their footprint, but over time many of them leave in protest against the control they are subjected to.

It’s unlikely that Russia and China will have much influence in changing the web architecture for everybody else. What is more likely is that their citizens will not partake in the newest innovations on the web, for the good or bad they will create. But most countries already today understand how important the web is for their industries and for most countries that’s a good enough reason not to tinker with something that works.

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