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Russia's 'Sovereign Internet' law launched on November 1st 2019

Last Edit: 31/12/19

Russia's new "Sovereign Internet" law was enforced on November 1st, 2019. The announcement of the law coming into effect has drawn a mixed response, with International commentators fearing a loss of Internet freedom for Russian citizens and the potential for an isolated Russia, and in contrast a more measured analysis within Russia, with domestic commentators believing the law is simple there to protect Russia from cyber warfare and an international Internet cut-off. On December 19th 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at his annual end-of-the-year press conference and was asked about the "Sovereign Internet" law, his response was as follows: "Free internet and the sovereign internet do not contradict each other as concepts, it is aimed only at preventing any negative influence in the case of foreign global resources being restricted. We are (Russia) not moving towards an internet shutdown -- closing down the Internet -- and are not seeking to do so."

Parallels have been drawn to The Great Firewall of China (GFW), which is a combination of computer networking tech and legislative -- within the People's Republic of China -- that enables the country to block foreign websites and Internet tools. The result of which has been the blocking of the following websites in China: Google, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, Netflix, Instagram, Twitch, Twitter, The Pirate Bay, Vimeo, BBC, The Guardian, HuffPost, and TIME. While domestic infrastructure security may be the official reason given for The Great Firewall of China (GFW), many western commentators believe the real reasons for its existence are: control of information and therefore of society; economic protectionism so that domestic Internet companies (Baidu etc) do not need to compete against Silicon Valley.

According to the BBC (published 1st November 2019), Russia's "Sovereign Internet" law "requires internet service providers to install network equipment known as deep packet inspection (DPI)". The result of which should enable Russia to be able to filter global Internet traffic by identifying it at source and blocking it "in an emergency". Russia may be justified in protecting its domestic Internet when you consider the International sanctions applied to Russia during the Ukrainian crisis, where the European Union, Switzerland and the United States of America applied sanctions to over 150 individuals and 35 entities (Gazprom, Sberbank, Gazprom Neft, Gazprombank, Lukoil, Rosselkhoz, Surgutneftegas, Vnesheconombank and Rosneft). If in the future sanctions were increased, then it is within reason to conclude that Russia's access to the Internet may be restricted by western countries, and it may be wise of Russia to start building a domestic infrastructure of servers, address books and networks that could function under such sanctions. It is often noted that unlike China, Russia relies far more heavily on foreign Internet infrastructure.

At present it is too early to conclude Russia's true purpose for its new "Sovereign Internet" law: will it indeed be used, as Vladimir Putin stated, simple for protecting Russia in an emergency, or, will it go the route of The Great Firewall of China (GFW), blocking content from major western online content and service providers.