Race to Introduce Fascist Internet Regulations in Russia Continues – Now under the Banner of Child Protection
Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, on Monday, proposed a bill aimed to ban children under the age of 14 from social media. Although the bill is touted under the banner of child protection, it also aims to introduce the mandatory submission of passport data. In January Russia introduced semi-fascist regulations to severely curb the rights of bloggers and independent media.
Vitaly Milnov, generally known for being ultra-conservative, introduced the controversial bill on Monday. Touting the bill under the banner of wanting to protect children and limit their access to social media the bill has far deeper implications. Parents could very well self-regulate their children’s access to social media.
The bill, however, implies that it would become mandatory for social media users to submit their passport data. Moreover, the bill also proposes that the use of pseudonyms will be banned. The proposed legislation also aims to introducing strict rules, requiring two-party consent before the publication of screenshots of online correspondence.
The bill reads, among others: “Social networks create a special virtual world where a person spends significant part of their life, contacting other people and essentially doing everything that they would do in real world. This world can’t be left unregulated by law. Especially now, when growing number of users are falling victim to different types of fraud.”
Even though Milonov is generally viewed as ultra-conservative, there are about 62 percent of Russians who according to polls support the ban of social networks for children while 39 percent supported using passport data to create an online account, a poll by the state-funded pollster VTsIOM revealed Monday.
Social media has come under intense scrutiny in Russia in recent months. Disturbingly, there are very few Russians who have received independent information about the not so overtly advertised implications of this scrutiny, of the proposed bill, and of plans to create a “Russian internet” to filter “unwanted foreign content. Russia also cracks down on independent bloggers and journalists.
On January 1, 2016 the Russian Federation implemented amendments to laws that further censor the internet and potentially independent media. These laws are being sold under the guise of empowering internet users and the right to protect personal information. The amendments follow legislation from 2014 that infringed on the rights of bloggers.
The amendments encompass the “Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection”, as well as a number of articles of the “Civil Process Code of the Russian Federation”. The latter include “the right to oblivion”.
The legislation is a two-edged sword that may protect the right to privacy while it also constitutes a further possible infringement on independent media.
The Right to Oblivion implies that any Russian citizen now may apply to a search engine operating within the territory of the Russian Federation to delete private information. It will be up to the search-engine operator to decide whether or not to delete the links. Should the search engine operator deny the request, the applicant may turn the case over to court.
The Russian Ministry of Communication and Mass Media notes that the law does not limit access to resources which directly publish private information, assuming that search engine operators will deal with the execution of the new law on the “Right to Oblivion”.
The amendments to the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection and the Civil Process Code are a two edged sword. While it may protect individuals from abuse of personal data it further increases the possibility to censor independent media.
Examples. An individual finds a personal photo, a passport number, or other personal information published on the internet. The data may have been uploaded by the person him/her-self or by others. In this case the right to oblivion is arguably empowering the individual and protecting privacy.
The situation is, however, an entirely different one when a newspaper publishes personal information of a member of Russia’s political or oligarchical establishment. Information that would be relevant with regard to a politician’s trustworthiness and integrity, or information that can disclose corruption, criminal activities … – to mention but a few examples. The legislation is ambiguous in this regard and further threatens independent media in Russia.
In early 2014 the law on mass media in Russia was amendment, forcing bloggers within the Russian Federation who have 10,000 or more readers per day to register as mass media. MP Vadim Dengin, the first Deputy Head of the Duma (parliament) Committee for Information Technology commented in 2014:
“Every blogger whose blog gets past a certain popularity threshold can be equated to mass media. Other people can share opinions expressed in blogs and expressing information with personal evaluations makes bloggers personalities of a national scale. It is natural that they are made equal with the mass media. They must share responsibility for their words and work within legal parameters”.
2014 legislation already provided for the possibility to hold any blogger accountable for slander, false information, copyright infringements and other “violations”. The 2014 bill was met with some resistance from Russia’s “bloggosphere“. Ultimately, the benefit or harm of the legislation depends on two factors.
- How restrictive or free the Russian Law on Mass Media is at any given time.
- Whether registration is mandatory, and if so, if privileges follow along with obligations.
The latest amendments suggest that laws become more restrictive, aimed at monopolizing the right to disseminating information. Moreover, the legislation from early 2014 already prompted a number of questions, including:
- Would accreditation enable independent media like nsnbc international to protect its sources on equal footing with “mass” media like the State sponsored TASS pr Russia Today?
- Does accreditation imply access to press conferences, access to crime scenes, access to information that is usually reserved for “mass” media?
- Does accreditation protect aspiring independent media from unlawful closures of their websites under false pretenses, as it happened with nsnbc international at least once within one year?
- Does this accreditation mean that remuneration of contributors from the “sparse” advertising revenue and “almost non-existent” donations would become tax deductible?
- Does it mean that small, independent media enjoy the same protection as mass media when someone sues them for libel?
- Would independent newspapers, like nsnbc, be held accountable for the material of each individual blogger and his/her material?
The “Right to Oblivion” is indeed empowering the individual that wants private information removed from the internet. It does, however, also suggest that the Russian Federation is on a dangerous path – granting government and oligarchical structures the “right to sending independent media and journalism into oblivion”.
CH/L – nsnbc 10.04.2017