A day after the Russian Parliament voted to establish a blacklist of websites that its government could shut down, the Computer & Communications Industry Association said this step raises a red flag for the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) debate. While the legislation would require further votes and other steps before becoming law, this step toward greater Internet censorship is troublesome – especially as Russia is leading a push for greater international regulation of the Internet and is seeking a better trading relationship with the United States.
The legislation is cloaked as a measure that targeted at child pornography and sites promoting suicide or substance abuse, but the establishment of a government blacklist framework is a severe blow to Internet freedom and could be the first step on a path that leads to complete censorship and control of online information by an increasingly authoritarian Russian government.
There have been stirrings of popular unrest in Russia leading up to and since the parliamentary and presidential elections. These stirrings were informed and organized by utilizing social networks and the Internet. Once a mechanism for the government to blacklist and shut down websites is implemented, there is little doubt that those in power will seek to expand it to use against the citizen activism they find so troublesome. While Russia has not heretofore had systemic Internet blocking like China’s Great Firewall, this legislation is a sign that it now seeks to follow that model and this development should be noted and condemned by US policymakers.
The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“It is important to note that this development comes as Congress is debating whether to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment and extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia. Jackson-Vanik was a Cold War initiative linking human rights and trade. At a time when it would seem to be in Russia’s interest to make a favorable impression on human rights, they have passed legislation to greatly undermine Internet freedom, the 21stcentury version of freedom of expression. If they embrace such censorship measures now, we can only assume that they will even more easily disregard international freedom norms once they achieve PNTR.
“Members of Congress, USTR and other Administration officials have been examining the scope of Internet censorship in other countries. Internet services are leading U.S. exports and Internet filtering and censorship is a non-tariff trade barrier, which would violate WTO agreements.
“We call on Congress and the Administration to further stress the importance of Internet freedom in our relationship with Russia. Pursuing Internet freedom in Russia would be an effective 21st century update of the U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy. We must remain vigilant in monitoring and resisting any new movement to restrict the Internet, and prioritize this important issue in accessing the overall relationship with Russia.
“The US and all other nations that value economic and political freedom must consistently hold Internet restricting countries accountable, and make Internet freedom a top diplomatic and trade priority.”