This past Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that tightens the government’s control over the Internet in the country.
The so-called “Bloggers Law” stipulates that all “popular” bloggers must register with the government by August 1, 2014. Moreover, the new law also stipulates that all websites that attract more than 3000 daily visitors will be classified as de facto media outlets, thereby making such sites fully responsible (and therefore liable) for the accuracy of its online content.
The new law has further stipulations. Once it is actually in effect, nobody will be allowed to blog under the cover of anonymity, and social networks and search engines will also be required to keep records of everything posted on their sites from the past six months. All such records must also be kept within Russia’s borders.
|Credit: Aleksey Druzhinin
Violations of the law would incur harsh penalties, including the shutdown of the offending website and/or a fine up to $142,000.
This writer’s opinion coincides with many others’ that this new law is designed to frighten Russians with dissident opinions from expressing them on the Internet. Ultimately, this is a step towards the Putin government’s desire to censor all criticism from the Web, at least within Russia.
The scary thing is, this is just the latest brick laid down by the Putin administration. Not long ago, the government blocked access to former chess world champion Garry Kasparov’s website. It did the same to Alexei Navalny’s site. The Russian government justified the shutdown of both websites on claims that their contents incited Russian citizens to break the law. Both Kasparov and Navalny are noted Putin critics.
Despite these and other draconian restrictions put on Russia’s citizens to express themselves online, it’s unclear how the government intends to enforce the new Bloggers Law. For one thing, the site does not define how the government would count site visitors. But this writer thinks that this only makes the new law even more dangerous: Without a clearly defined or disclosed method on how the government acquires evidence against an offending website, it’s all too easy for it to simply say that a website has violated the law’s requirements, thereby subjecting it to shutdown and/or exposing its content providers to further legal punishments.