Russia’s new web-blocking agency begins its work

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Russia’s new internet site blocking agency has begun ordering its first take-downs of sites deemed to contain offensive or illegal material.

The plan was approved this summer to create a blacklist of websites containing child porn, drug-related and extremist material and other content deemed illegal. The list was launched publicly at zapret-info.gov.ru in the last few days. According to RAPSI:

“In the first 24 hours of its existence, the site logged over 5,000 complaints regarding offensive content, 96 percent of which were rejected after consideration.

“Of the initial complaints, 10 sites were kept on the list as they contained child pornography, 40 complaints were passed to the drugs control authorities, and 23 to the consumer affairs watchdog.”

So far, these kind of blockages are unlikely to ruffle feathers. Should occasions arise in which certain political discourse, for example, is judged illegal, the matter would certainly become more controversial.

Free-speech and journalism lobby group Reporters Sans Frontiers opposes this and other related Russian laws, saying:

“The procedure leading to access blocking is extremely opaque. No judicial decision is needed. Instead, an anonymous group of ‘experts’, of unknown competence and unverified credentials, takes the action.

“Internet service providers note that they lack the ability to effectively block only certain Web pages. This creates a likelihood of overly broad access denial. Last September, for instance, YouTube was entirely blocked for several hours in some regions by providers who had been ordered to block the anti-Islam film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims’.”

Website owners can check the online register to learn whether their site has been slated as illegal. They then have three days to block the individual content at issue or face blocking by ISPs.

Register operators say Google is on a list to be notified when they flag sites as illegal, but it is not clear what, if anything, Google will intend to do with that information.

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