Russia enacts ‘sovereign internet’ law, free speech activists cry foul

A law known as the “sovereign internet” bill came into force on Friday in Russia, tightening state control over the global network, which free speech activists say will strengthen government oversight of the country’s cyberspace.

The legislation aims to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and to build a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue working even if Russia is cut off from foreign infrastructure.

The bill’s authors have said that the measures are needed to defend Russia after the United States adopted what they described as aggressive new cyber security policies last year.

“The law is in line with the tendency we’ve been observing over the past seven years,” said Sarkis Darbinyan of Roskomsvoboda, a group that fights censorship in the internet and promotes freedom of information. “This is the movement towards strict regulation of the internet space, which scares the authorities.”

Russian authorities have in recent years adopted a series of rules such as stricter regulations on public protests, tightening their control over society, effectively giving more powers to President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative.

The Russia government banned the Telegram instant messaging service and moved last year to block it, but the attempt failed and the service is still popular and widely used.

Digital Rights Center, a Russian group of cyber law attorneys, also said the testing of the “sovereign Internet” law has not been successful so far because of a number of technical challenges.

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