No, Belarus Is Not Cut Off From The Internet, But New Restrictions Are Still Pretty Bad

from the could-be-worse-and-probably-will-be dept

There is a lot of excitement over news that Belarus has supposedly cut itself off from the rest of the Internet, with headlines like, "It is now illegal to access any foreign website in the Republic of Belarus". Given the continuing concern over human rights in that country, this story has a certain plausibility to it. But it's worth exploring what the law in question actually says, since the situation is rather more complex than such headlines imply.

Google Translate offers quite a clear translation of the new law (original in Russian), which has two main parts. The first concerns businesses:

Business entities engaged in activities on the sale of goods, works and services in the Republic of Belarus with the use of information networks, systems and resources with an Internet connection, you should pay attention: if these networks, systems or resources are not available on the territory of Belarus and (or) not registered in the prescribed manner to the subjects can be applied to an administrative penalty of a fine from 10 to 30 base units.
That seems to say that all online businesses must be either located in Belarus, or registered there, which might be a problem for Amazon, say. Presumably the company could get around this if it set up a subsidiary in Belarus, and then sold goods from the site amazon.by – except for the slight problem that this domain has already been taken by a water company. However, Amazon might well decide that it is not worth the effort, and simply block all connections from Belarus.

One issue is what exactly "services" includes in the above section. If, as some have suggested, this means companies offering email, it might stop people using Gmail, unless Google also sets up an arm in the country – wisely, Google has already registered its domain in Belarus, google.by. Clearly, much depends on how the law is interpreted (and IANAL).

As for non-commercial sites like Wikipedia, say, the paragraph doesn't seem to apply at all, since it only concerns businesses. However, they may well be caught by other parts of the law:

Administrative penalty of a fine (ranging from 5 to 15 basic units) may be imposed on officials of the centers for collective use of the web services (computer clubs, Internet cafes, home networking, and other places, which provide shared access users of Internet services to Internet) in violation of legislation on the identification of client devices and users to record and store information about them, as well as Internet services rendered.

It should also restrict user access to Internet services to the information gap for distribution in accordance with the laws (the information content of which is directed to carry out extremist activities, dissemination of pornographic materials, etc.). In case of violation of requirements to restrict access to this information also applies a penalty from 10 to 30 base units.
These sections deal with Internet cafes and even "home networks" – connections shared among households. It requires users to be registered, the sites they visit recorded, and the usual censorship of pornographic and "extremist" materials. It's easy to imagine even sites like Wikipedia being branded as such (after all, it happened in the UK), and thus being on the blacklist.

So while it is by no means true that Belarus has made accessing all sites outside the country illegal, it has certainly made it risky, if not impossible, to buy stuff on external sites. Worse, it confirms that Internet users must be spied upon, and "forbidden" sites must be blocked; taken together, these new measures allow the government of Belarus to exert extremely tight control over Internet users in the country. Moreover, with these systems in place, severing Belarus from the Internet for real would be relatively easy, if its government decided to take that extreme step.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:21am

    Hmmm, sounds almost familiar

    Change a few words around and you have ... us in the U.S.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:30am

    All that's missing is the forum post from Belarus...

    FIRST...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:33am

    Re: Hmmm, sounds almost familiar

    It's funny.. I had the same thoughts if SOPA/PIPA pass.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:38am

    Is it time to buy the president of Belarus a round of drinks?

    (courtesy of comrade Molotov)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:43am

    Re:

    I hope you never have to travel to Belarus:

    Censorship in Belarus

    Censorship in Belarus, although prohibited by the country's constitution, is enforced by a number of laws. These include a law that makes insulting the president punishable by up to five years in prison, and another that makes criticizing Belarus abroad punishable by up to two years in prison.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re:

    This is the point where I'd like to commission a 'shopped picture of the president of Belarus and the king of Thailand engaged in a scatalogical sex act, overprint it with something humorous, and see if it catches on as a meme.

    Oh, and there should be a goat. Or maybe a donkey.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    And a monkey.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Re: All that's missing is the forum post from Belarus...

    FIRST...Swing and a miss!!!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Could you please think of the Monkeys?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    Phew! For a moment I thought you were talking about the US. I'm sure nothing like that is even being discussed there. Oh wait....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Is Belarus part of the WTO?
    They could get slapped by interfering with trade.
    Like SOPA that seems a pretty bad thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Harrison Weber, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    More thoughts

    Glyn, I'm glad you shared your thoughts. I added this note to the original piece, and I felt it was worth sharing:

    There’s grey area in the law, because all websites provide a service. Under this interpretation, most foreign websites can be immediately blocked, requiring outside companies to develop some sort of local branch in Belarus — that is, if they ever considered opening a branch in a country that is not exactly free or democratic.

    It doesn’t seem to be as simple as registering a .by domain either, because “registered in the prescribed manner to the subjects” could call for local business licenses. As for sites like Wikipedia, the statement by the LoC says that any “place” that offers access to the internet “might” be found guilty. To be clear: You might be found guilty by an authoritarian regime, just like SOPA might be enforced by Hollywood.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Glyn Moody, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    Re: More thoughts

    I agree it's not at all clear; I suppose we'll only really know once the Belarus government starts enforcing it and we see the practical effects.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Will worldoftanks.com have to become worldoftanks.by?

    This probably doesn't apply to us non-gamers, but students in one of my college courses have informed me that "World of Tanks" is currently one of the most popular on-line games in the world and holds some sort of Guinness record for most people on-line at the same time.

    Anyway, it's development center is in Belarus. I thought this a bit odd given that country's attitude towards the internet. Maybe they know a lot about tanks.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Will worldoftanks.com have to become worldoftanks.by?

    Is not odd when you understand that those laws are to be enforced selectively and not to be used against the people who pay.

    This is not a just law that will apply to everyone.

    One politician once said "For my friends everything, for my enemies the law" this is exactly how it will be used.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Duane Kuiper, Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re: All that's missing is the forum post from Belarus...

    "Got 'em!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    What I think about every time I hear that country's name:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-TDINESqmU

    or the video I just discovered while looking that up:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iapYjKveMY

    Bonus: in Belarus or even the US in the near future, it might be illegal for me to share those links or for YouTube to host them. I'm sure that would help commerce, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 1:43pm

    Re: Re: More thoughts

    ...and hence the reason why people are so concerned about SOPA and other laws. We don't know how they will be upheld until it's too late... so we assume the worst.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jan 3rd, 2012 @ 1:55pm

    potential

    I see the potential that this new law will create one new job. One guy, in a small office with a phone and a giant list of clients. All the guy does all day is take calls and say "Yes, this is their Belarus branch."

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    jaymeany, Jan 4th, 2012 @ 8:08am

    Not exactly...

    I have a long standing relationship with a dev team in Minsk. We've been working together for almost 6 years now and when I read this I sent it to my local PM (there) directly and this was her response,
    "It is now illegal to access any foreign website in the Republic of Belarus" – this is bullshit. Illegal it would be to host a site which sells goods (in Belarus) on a US server. Still it’s too hard technically to track such things. However, huge companies had to move to local hosts.
    So there you have it from a Minsk native in the web dev industry. Not completely conclusive but at least authentic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    banned, Jan 5th, 2012 @ 2:57am

    Re: Hmmm, sounds almost familiar

    I know, that american citizen are not allowed to spend their money in Cuba, under the criminal charge threat. Belarus is delayed many years.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    heh, Jan 5th, 2012 @ 3:02am

    Re: Re:

    Also torturing them, like that one in american-colony Iraq, who throw his shoe to Bush ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    Aleksey Ponomarev (profile), Jan 5th, 2012 @ 3:17am

    Internet regulation in Belarus

    The current interpretation of the new law is incorrect.The occurred confusion can be explained by the lack of objective and qualified information on Belarusian Internet regulation and the ambiguity of the provisions of the Edict on regulation of Internet.

    In short, basing on the comments of the regulator and opinion of Belarusian leading law firms, the common interpretation has been worked out: the hosting requirement is applicable only to Belarusian legal entities and entrepreneurs. Only Belarusian residents can be fined and (approx EUR 32 to EUR 96), but not to Internet users trying to access websites violating the Edict.
    There are no legal obstacles for any Belarusian resident to operate a website under international top-level domain names (.com, .net, etc.) or national domain names of other states (.ru, .ch, it. etc.).
    Neither visiting foreign websites is considered as a violation nor has any of foreign websites been blocked as both these measures are not prescribed by the Edict.

    For correct understanding, please, consider the true-to-life (or at least the most objective) legal interpretation of the current Internet regulation in Belarus, available at my Blog dedicated to IT and Internet regulation in Belarus available at http://www.ITlaw.by

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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