CCIA has grave concerns about legislation passed yesterday by the Russian Parliament that would establish a blacklist of websites that government could shut down, and hopes U.S. trade officials weigh this development. While the legislation is ostensibly targeted at child pornography and sites promoting suicide or substance abuse, 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 political activism they find so troublesome. While Russia has not heretofore had systemic Internet blocking like China’s Great Firewall, this legislation may be a sign that it now seeks to follow that model.
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 one would think Russia would want to show their best behavior on human rights, they have passed legislation to greatly undermine Internet freedom, the 21st century version of freedom of expression. One wonders what they will feel free to do once they achieve PNTR. We call on Congress and the administration to further highlight the importance of Internet freedom in our relationship with Russia. Pursuing Internet freedom in Russia would be an effective 21stcentury update of the U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy. We must remain vigilant in monitoring and highlighting any new movement to restrict the Internet, and duly consider this important issue in discussing the overall relationship with Russia.