After months of speculation and rumour that Russia wants to ban VPN services, it is finally coming true.
On Friday the lower Parliament which is known as the State Duma passed a bill that will outlaw VPN and anonymising proxy services.
The bill was passed unanimously showing wide support from those in power in the Russian legislative body.
Those living in Russia and Russians themselves need not fear just yet as the bill needs to be approved by the upper chamber of parliament and then signed by president Vladimir Putin himself.
Expectation, however, is that this will happen so any hope may be short lived.
Russia in recent years has attempted to crack down on online extremism, child pornography and other dubious material.
However, many international bodies have claimed that censorship has gone too far and is stifling freedom of speech and alternative lifestyles such as LGBT.
The latest VPN banning bill is aimed at ensuring that websites and services that are blocked in Russia remain blocked and users do not simply use a VPN to bypass them.
The Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) have been tasked with hunting down VPN services and other anonymising products and banning access to them. A ban which it is claimed can be contested in court later.
Ban first and ask questions later appears to be the order of the day.
In a somewhat laughable twist to the tale, any provider who agrees to ensure that users of the service aren’t able to access the blocked websites will be able to continue to operate in Russia.
For the majority of legitimate VPN services this will be completely out of the question because it is impossible for them to determine what websites users are visiting without enabling some kind of real time logging of users’ activity.
As was recently seen in Australia with VPN provider Wangle, there will be those who want to appease government requirements regardless of how unreasonable they are.
Such requirements will make any service willing to comply completely useless from an online privacy view and it’s likely that only unwitting users would choose to use such a service.
Russian VPN uptake
The bill is expected to come into force on November 1st. Initial blocks of VPN provider websites is likely to see an increased interest and sign-up rate from Russian users leading up to the date.
While it will be possible for Russian authorities to block access to VPN servers in the long term as has been seen with other blockade attempts VPN providers are likely to introduce new server location, IP addresses and other measures to combat the blocks.
Russia it appears is starting to closely follow the Chinese internet model.
China has some of the most restrictive internet access in the world blocking access to all number of websites that the western world and rest of Asia take for granted.
With strict internet regulation and invasive measures to monitor what users access China has somewhat of a Fort Knox set-up.
Regardless of restrictions in place countless Chinese users continue to evade such measures by using VPN services that play cat and mouse with blocks.
Russia may hope to ban VPN services but we’re likely to see workarounds and other avenues which will allow Russians and those living in Russia to access websites that find themselves unfairly on the ban list.