News Brief

Russia’s Next Step Toward Sovereign Internet

Russia’s lower house parliament has passed the first reading of a bill that aims to create a fully autonomous internet in the country, the latest step Moscow has taken to disconnecting itself from the global digital world .

Proponents of the draft law known as “Sovereign Internet” say that, the goal is to make Runet — Russia’s Internet — independent and allow Moscow to defend against foreign cyber attacks.

So far so smart. Except no one has yet tested whether the country actually has the capability to cut off itself from the global digital world.

Normally, information that travels across various worldwide digital networks is connected by multiple routing points. What Russia’s Internet law suggest is bringing this routing exchange points into the Russian territory. In theory this would substantially increase the government’s capability to control digital data inside the country, making it easier to surveil the information accessible to citizens.

But in order for Russia to actually conduct this digital shift, local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) need new equipment. And they would need it fast. According to the bill, the deadline for these technical adaptations is April 1. The details of implementing the law is still unspecified.

It’s not clear right now who would pay for these upgrades. So far the government has not made it clear whether they would, or the ISPs would have to. The bill still needs to pass two more votes in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

While the initiators and proponents of the bill back it with Russia’s need to guard itself from foreign threats, the critics of the proposal say, this is yet another – and rather aggressive – means for the government to gain even larger control over internet traffic. They believe it would put Russia another step closer to China’s Great Firewall.

The Duma vote follows another law passed in December 2018 that obliges companies to re-route all internet traffic to exchange points approved by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications and media regulator.