News Brief

Russia ‘sovereign’ Internet law passes 2nd vote

Russia is one step closer to cutting the nation from the global Internet with parliament passing the second vote for the “sovereign internet” bill, keeping it on track to become a law in November this year.

The bill aims to create an autonomous, “segmented” Russian internet, which lawmakers say will protect Russia from being “cut off” from the digital world by a cyber-attack.

Critics say it also has the potential of stopping Russian citizens from accessing globally available but politically undesirable information — much like China’s Great Firewall.

Normally, information that travels across various worldwide digital networks is connected by multiple routing points. What Russia’s Internet law suggests is bringing the routing exchange points onto Russian territory. This would substantially increase the government’s capability to control digital data inside the country, making it easier to surveil the information citizens are viewing.

However, a deputy from the ruling United Russia party Leonid Levin, reassured Russians that: “The bill’s popular name, the Chinese Firewall, has nothing to do with our initiative.”

Despite its backing in parliament so far, no one has yet tested whether Russia actually has the capability to cut itself off from the global digital world.

In order for Russia to actually conduct this digital shift, local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) need new equipment and it’s not clear who would pay for these upgrades. Initially, proponents of the bill promised it wouldn’t cost a kopeck. But a secondary assessment by one of the bill’s authors estimated it would require $310,000 (2 million rubles), which Russian media reported is still only a fraction of the actual cost to realize the project.

Next up, the bill must pass two more votes, first in the lower and then in the upper houses of parliament, before arriving on Putin’s desk.