Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

FDCS proposes new way of filtering Internet content


The Foundation for the Development of Civil Society is soon to publish a major report concerning a very contentious subject: the use of the Russian Internet (RUNET) for political purposes and consequent censorship of the Internet and filtering content.

Of course, any user who is remotely interested in politics is aware of the existence in Russia of a blacklist of sites which have paedophilic content, which encourage the use and preparation of drugs or which incite extremism. But, alas, the register of banned sites has many shorcomings according to experts. For example, due to imperfections in the technical process of blocking sites and flaws in the present legislation, Roscomnadzor is finding that when it tries to block access to one piece of information on a large portal such as Youtube or Wikipedia, it may be sending a command instead to 'block the entire resource.'

However, Stanislav Apetyan, an expert from the FDCS says that 'the law on blacklisting sites in Russia is virtually a carbon copy of the same law operating in Great Britain at the moment. The system created in the UK is a model for the one which is being used by us.' The only difference is that in the Russian Federation the list of banned sites is controlled by Roskomnadzor (market users back this up) whereas in the UK it is controlled by the charitable Fund Internet Watch Foundation.

Moreover, the debate on the 'Roskomnadzor List' has already led to an interesting situation: Vedomosti published material about plans by the Foundation to publish the results of an analysis of international practice on blocking Internet content, suggesting, in the opinion of experts, an optimal criteria for 'separating the wheat from the chaff.' Vedomosti quoted Irina Levova - an analyst from the Russian Association of Electronic Communication who claimed that 'comparing the Russian model to the British one is inappropriate because in the UK, sites are being blocked in a different way'. She added that 'responsibility for creating this register should be handed to a government organisation and the process should be made transparent and clear. Controversial cases could then be tackled by members of an expert commission in Roskomnadzor.' But hang on. Why then do journalists and those who oppose the blacklist insist that the register should be handled by non-governmental organisations? And why is there so much talk of 'state censorship being carried out by state organisations'? Bizarre indeed.

Stanislav Apetyan, the FDCS expert says: 'The current system of blocking and filtering inappropriate content operating in Russia today is based on the British model. We have in fact simply borrowed a principle which many people in Britain are using. To say that it is wrong to make such comparisons is rather silly because we have already adopted their experience in this area.' He goes on to say that 'the problem lies elsewhere. We have not been entirely correct in the way we have adopted the British model. The shortcomings connected with optimising the Russian system (as cited by Konstantin Kostin) came about during the process of adapting the British system within Russia.' And of course the register has already been put under the control of a State organisation - as intended. 'So this system is now being put into practice but it has come in for a huge wave of criticism particularly from those companies who are part of RAEK (The Russian Association of Electronic Communications)' insists Apetyan. He added that 'stupid incidents' have arisen due to the lack of expertise among government organisations involved in creating the registry. 'There have been some very stupid incidents because of this. For example sites which have absolutely no suspicious content at all have been included on the blacklist and blocked.'

But let us return to the report. According to the FDCS, the report details the results of a study of regulatory practices in other countries 'and' says Aperyan 'as a matter of fact these are both democratic countries and authoritarian ones.' He adds that the Foundation has also analysed both technological filters being used in various countries and 'reports on freedom of speech on the Internet in various countries around the world.' Some of them - for example the report from Freedom House 'are very much angled to a political point of view.' It is true that one only has to look at what Russians are writing on the Internet nowadays to see that there is clearly no 'partly censored Internet' here. And it is also worthwhile remembering that in the USA, users who tweet or post comments on Facebook such as 'kill the President' get very real prison sentences.

Apetyan insists that the report will be of interest 'not only to ordinary Internet users but also to people who are directly involved with this debate, whether that be government officials or people working in non-governmental organisations who are defending freedom of speech on the Internet.' After all it is true that there is certainly no lack of material on this subject in both Russia and the USA.

In the last chapter of the report from the Foundation (which is headed by the former Director of the Kremlin's Department on Internal Policy Konstantin Kostin) recommendations are given on how Russia can optimise the existing system which is currently underway here and how best to reflect the shortcomings and suggest ways of correcting them. 'We have placed Russia in the Continental model for filtering content' says Apetyan 'based primarily on the experience of European countries where a lively debate on this subject is also currently underway both among the public and in political circles. What exactly should be filtered? How should it be filtered? How can one prevent filtering from turning into censorship and how can one ensure that filtering is in the public's best interests?'