Russian Wikipedia block reversed as new law comes into force

Russia has again been making headlines as they attempted to censor Wikipedia. In fact, the issue created by Russian authorities was not specifically with Wikipedia on a whole but with a single page that contained information banned in Russia focusing on the use and preparation of cannabis.

Wikipedia was unable to assist in the request to block the offending information due to their move to the use of HTTPS. HTTPS is the secure version of the everyday web-browsing protocol that encrypts data and provides a secure environment often used by services such as your bank or other password sensitive sites. Due to HTTPS being deployed on Wikipedia it was impossible for Russian ISPs to restrict access to one single page and would have required site wide blocking.

Russian Censorship

Russia makes Wikipedia U-Turn

In the proceeding days the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor responsible for issuing such blocking requests made a u-turn and published a notice stating the Russian Federal Drug Control Service deemed the information does not violate Russian law. The regulator claims that due to edits made to the page in question it is no longer violating Russian law and what ultimately led to the resulting change of heart.

While Russia isn’t known for treating website blocking gently one has to wonder if the lack of ability to block only one page played some part in the decision or if in fact pressure to edit the page to comply with Russian authorities was the sole reason.

Russians in Russia only, please.

In other Russian news, a new law requiring companies who store information on Russian citizens to host personal information within the borders of Russia has come into effect as of September 1st, 2015.

The law requires both Russian and foreign companies who store data on Russian citizens to do so on servers based within Russia. The requirements have been met with widespread criticism due to it allowing greater access and control of information by Russian authorities and while it may appear as if Russia is flexing their might due to already strained international relations the situation leaves Russian citizen’s privacy being ever more eroded.

While companies such as Paypal, eBay and Microsoft have agreed to the new requirements of which a fine of £3000 could be imposed and the possibility of offending sites being blocked within Russia others such as Google and Facebook have stated that they do not intend to comply.

Although Facebook officials met with the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor head, Alexander Zharov, it appears unofficially that Facebook are unwilling to cooperate with the request although no statement confirming this has been made by Facebook themselves who opted to downplay the meeting as one they regularly have with world governments.

Russia has been pushing for a more restrictive internet in recent years often with rather complicated and restrictive requirements such as those requiring bloggers to register with an official register if they receive more than 3000 views per month to the more recent issue of Wikipedia blocking and data storage inside Russia. With such moves VPN use will continue to grow within Russia to avoid such restrictions and protect user privacy.

Future of VPN use in Russia

However with new requirements for international companies to store user data in Russia it will be interesting to see how foreign VPN companies will react to such requirements and if Russia was to force the requirement by blocking access to VPN companies websites or servers what the next move would be to allow Russian users a free and unrestricted internet access.

Speaking with David Cox, owner of LiquidVPN he had this to say about the situation.

The law is not surprising considering the war currently being waged on the Internet in Russia. We value the privacy of our Russian users and will not be storing their data anywhere near the Kremlin.

VyprVPN responded to the news stating in a blog post.

As a company that supports an open Internet devoid of censorship, Golden Frog is unnerved by the passage of this new law. This law further threatens the privacy of Russian citizens and removes an element of control over personal data. It’s also concerning in terms of reach and potential impact outside Russia’s borders. We are opposed to this law, as no one owns the Internet nor should they be able to control what is done with users’ personal data – in Russia or anywhere else in the world.

The plot thickens evermore for Russian internet users.

Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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