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Freedom of Expression at Risk with New Russian Law on VPNs

Freedom of Expression at Risk with New Russian Law on VPNs

According to the Russian government, the law is necessary in order to reduce the number of extremist groups, however, Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers allege this is but an effort to censor free of speech and reduce online privacy.

The systematic policy will come into force on the 1st of November, this new law requires Virtual Private Network (VPNs) to comply with the Russian State’s online censorship program. It is important to note that, the law on VPNs has not come without antecedence, for Vladimir Putin’s government has been systematically undermining the right to Freedom of expression online.

The new law consists of a blacklist made by government-run company Roskomnadzor, which will require all Virtual Private Network providers to block all the websites included in the aforementioned blacklist.

It has transpired the Russian Government aims to use the new legislation and censorship in order to reduce the opposition activists’ impact on the presidential elections which will be celebrated next year. However, according to experts and companies abroad, only VPNs based in Russia will be affected by the new legislation.

VPNs outside Russia won’t be affected

A great majority of Virtual Private Network suppliers will not comply with the new legislation performed by the Russian Government. One of the most important VPNs that have already confirmed their noncompliance with the law is Private Internet Access (PIA). Which would come as no surprise since PIA removed all their servers from the country in 2016 after a number of their servers were seized or blocked without prior warning. This turn of events poses the question of how will the Russian Government sanction these VPNs outside of Russia.

The Agence France Presse News Agency got an exclusive interview with ExpressVPN vice president Harold Li, who told the agency “(the new law) essentially asks VPN services to help enforce Russia’s censorship regime.”

Commenting on the changes, Harold Li, vice president at ExpressVPN, told the Agence France Presse News Agency that the new law “VPNs are central to online privacy, anonymity, and freedom of speech, so these restrictions represent an attack on digital rights.”

Harold further added, “(the new law) essentially asks VPN services to help enforce Russia’s censorship regime.” And one could speculate that in view of PIA’s actions he claimed: “We hope and expect that most major VPN services will not bend to these new restrictions.”

However, Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Eva Galperin does not believe that all VPNs will be targeted in Roskomnadzor’s blacklist, rather it will be applied selectively.

Russia is following the China’s steps and taking a step further

Russia has been blocking sites a-la Chinese vision of internet sovereignty. Prominent examples of this include the worldwide popular application for online messaging Telegram, which was demanded to give the Russian Government its encryption keys, Telegram denied and, thus, was fined for refusing to violate users’ online privacy. Even LinkedIn, a company that complied with Chinese requirements of surveillance and censorship has been blocked in Russia.

Famous National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, spoke up against the new law, claiming the new legislation “makes Russia both less safe and less free.” Other big organizations such as Amnesty International described the law as “a major blow to internet freedom.”

Fortunately for Russian people, if what has transpired is true, then Virtual Private Network providers residing outside of Russia will not be required or forced to comply with the new legislation, what’s more, main VPN providers cannot be forced into submission by the Russian government, which gives a glimmer of hope for Russian people wanting to express their opinions whether in favor or against the government.

About Ali Raza

Ali is a freelance journalist, having 5 years of experience in web journalism and marketing. He contributes to various online publications. With a master degree, now he combines his passions for writing about internet security and technology. When he is not working, he loves traveling and playing games.

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