(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
russia, vpns



Russia Tries To Deliver The Killing Blow To VPN Use

from the Industrialized-stupdity dept

Last year Russia passed a new surveillance bill that promised to bring greater security to the country. As is par for the course for these types of bills, the legislation did the exact opposite by not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but by also imposing harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers. As a result, some VPN providers like Private Internet Access wound up leaving the country after finding their entire function eroded and having some of their servers seized. The end result? Russia's pledge to shore up security wound up making everybody in the country notably less secure.

And now Russia appears poised to dramatically up the ante.

Alongside the country's attack on encryption, Russia has dramatically ramped up internet filtering and censorship in the apparent hopes of making the great firewall of China seem reasonable. And a new bill being pushed quickly through the Russian legislature would not only impose fines of up to $12,400 per breach on search engines that still link to these banned sites, but would require VPNs to immediately cease providing access to these blocked domains as well. If they refuse, these VPN providers risk being blocked themselves:

"Russia’s plan is to issue a nationwide ban on systems and software that allow Internet users to bypass website blockades previously approved by telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor. This means that if a VPN, proxy or similar tool unblocks torrent site RuTracker, for example, it will be breaking the law. As a result, it too will find itself on Russia’s banned site list."

The technical aspects of the bill appear to have largely been formulated by the Media Communications Union (MCU), a coalition of Russian media conglomerates hoping to piggyback on the government's crack down of free speech to wage a broader war on piracy. And while the legislation's proponents continue to insist this is all simply necessary to thwart piracy and security threats at home and abroad, most are well aware that this is just pretense for a ham-fisted attempt at information control under the false banner of a safer, more secure nation:

“Naturally, we are against the spread of illegal content, but the law does not violate the rights and freedoms of citizens to access information,” says Sergey Grebennikov, director of the Regional Public Center of Internet Technologies. "Yes, there is a ‘gray zone’ used to carry out illegal activities and the distribution of illegal content using a CGI proxies, but it does not mean that legitimate users have to suffer. It is also important to note that the laws do not violate the rights of users who choose the safe use of the Internet, for example, by using a VPN connection,” Grebennikov concludes."

Those worries are a day late and several thousand dollars short. 100 VPN providers are already blocked in Russia for one reason or another, and Opera scaled back its Russian operations last November after Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor pressured it to include website filtering in the integrated VPN (now included in its Opera browser for free). This new assault on VPNs simply takes the entire affair to the next level, bringing Russia more in line with the draconian VPN crackdown we're seeing in China (and, inevitably, here in the west, where VPNs are increasingly demonized).

Of course while VPNs are not a panacea for our endlessly eroded privacy rights, they remain an incredibly useful tool for those living under repressive regimes. Most legislative VPN bans are of the "death by a thousand cuts" variety, where lawmakers go out of their way to pretend they're not trying to kill VPNs, even if the end goal always remains the same: the elimination of any tool that can protect citizens from ever-expanding government surveillance and information control.


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