Since November 1, a law regulating usage of VPN services and anonymizers in Russia is in full force. For Internet users it has become more difficult to get out of any Russian censorship. “Novaya Gazeta” interviewed Artem Kozlyuk in order to find out how the new act works and how users “survive” in harsh circumstances. Kozlyuk is the head of the social organization “Roskomsvoboda” and a co-founder of the Digital Rights Protection Center.
– Which anonymizers are prohibited?
– There is no clear description. Web-services, Tor browser, VPN providers can be banned. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Federal Security Service will decide in each case. They identify such services and then forward lists to Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media).
– How is the law implemented?
– Lists of Internet resources which can be used to access banned websites are sent to Roskomnadzor. After it, the institution contacts website owners or program developers and informs them that they are required to start filtering content for their customers. If within 30 days, the owners do not cooperate, their website or service is put on the list of prohibited Internet resources and Roskomnadzor sends a demand to restrict an access to telecom operators.
It is not clear whether the act will be effective. Personally, I consider that it is inefficient. For example: online radio Zello is blocked in accordance with the law on organizers of information dissemination, but despite blocking, it is still available for Russian users. And although Roskomnadzor bans a lot of Zello technical resources (technical domains, IP addresses, cloud services) developers confront these measures with the help of certain groundworks.
Besides, you can always find another anonymizer or VPN in case the former does not meet your needs. A competition in the market of such services is very high and it is impossible to prohibit all of them for several months or even years.
– What should users do now?
– One can use web-anonymizers. There are plenty of them and it is quite easy to find one in search engines. Not a particular word is forbidden but a specific list of services, that is why even if all existing anonymizers get banned new ones will be created.
For people who want to stay on the clearnet, we launched the website with specifically recommended VPN services. They are not free, but not expensive either. It is important to understand that initially VPN was created not to bypass blocking but to protect communications from various intruders – scammers, intelligent services, hackers. And a couple of dollars is not that much.
Also you can use Tor browser. A lot of large Internet resources have already opened up on the Tor network, in .onion.market domain zone: Facebook, New York Times, Rutracker, library “Flibusta”. Internet users will leave the clearnet and head to the deepweb.
Furthermore, every oppressive law contributes to a widespread digital literacy. It can be said that people will get to the next Internet literacy level.
– Was blocking successful in other countries?
– Governments of several states try to limit access to Tor and anonymizers in one form or another. For example, China can control Tor relay nodes, but not all of them. And VPN services can be used: legal authorities understand that if they are blocked, the whole business will stop, because external communications are built via VPN.
In Belarus, authorities have broad powers to censor online content, in particular: on a basis of spreading illegal information or spying on users. Belarusians use the system SORM (System for Operative Investigative Activities), and Internet service providers are obliged to store information about customers for a year, including their IP addresses, duration of the Internet sessions, lists of visited websites and search queries. “Beltelecom” is a monopolistic provider of external gateways for Belarusian users, controls all outbound traffic and censors the Internet since 2001. Independent IP telephony is not allowed, however users are able to bypass this filtering with the help of VPN or Tor.
Some countries impose liability for using such resources. In United Arab Emirates a person can be imprisoned for using VPN and proxy.
By the way it may be a logical extension for the Russian history. Firstly, websites are banned, secondly bypass services and tools are banned, and eventually the users are punished. I will not be surprised if a law criminalizing “an attempt to access prohibited information” is enacted next year.