from the that's-not-going-to-go-over-well dept
Now the Russian Supreme Court may have just made it even easier for Russia to stifle speech online. A new ruling has said that ISPs need to proactively block access to "illegal content" or they could "lose their license" to operate. Specifically, the court found that there is no difference between allowing access to illegal information and disseminating it yourself. The law firm Baker & McKenzie summarized the findings which had to do with whether or not it was illegal for an ISP to allow access to an online gambling site, despite gambling being illegal:
The Supreme Court ruled that is it unlawful to disseminate information that is restricted in accordance with Russian law, including, but not limited to, on gambling. The court further concluded that provision of access to restricted information is equal to dissemination of this information. The court thus found that a telecoms company de-facto disseminates restricted information by providing access to websites containing this information.That's a startling and dangerous finding. Basic common sense would suggest that there's a world of difference between merely being the conduit to information and actually putting forth that information yourself. In the US, this is why we have various safe harbors, to avoid ridiculous situations where the platform/service provider is blamed for the actions of users. But, apparently, the Russian Supreme Court has no concept of secondary liability and has squashed it all down into primary liability. If you're a Russian service provider, you should be afraid. Very afraid.
The court concluded that Rostelecom must take measures to technically block its clients’ access to restricted information. Following the Supreme Court’s rationale this requirement applies irrespective of the location of the servers containing such websites.
A ruling like this could quite easily stifle Russia's internet industry, as it will make it prohibitive for most companies to operate, given the potential liability -- especially given the new rules about what might be considered illegal online.
As for why it will likely increase censorship, beyond the obvious, you need look no further than China, where the famed "Great Firewall" tends not to be based on a blacklist of "illegal" sites, but by a similar belief that an ISP is liable for any "bad" content that users are able to access. As such, the default is to overblock. Basically block anything that the government might deem to be illegal, just to avoid legal liability. Given Russia's recent crackdowns, it seems quite likely that ISPs will take a similar "block first, deal with any questions later" approach, rather than risk liability.