With internet censorship rising all across the world, many people use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access certain websites. Russia now is cracking down on such users. President Vladimir Putin has signed a legislation that outlaws VPNs, which could help access websites banned in Russia. The new law was announced on the Russian government’s website, Reuters reported. The law, which comes into effect on November 1, also bans anonymizers — technology that allows people to surf the web anonymously. Also Read - Parliamentary Committee urges government to ban VPN services in India: ReportAlso Read - PUBG Mobile still playable with this 5-second trick: Is the PUBG ban in India just a joke?
The Russian government has insisted that this crackdown will not affect law-abiding citizens of the country. It is meant to only block access to “unlawful content,” it said. The law has already been approved by the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament. This comes at a time when Apple has just announced that it is pulling out unlicensed VPN apps from China — Russia’s neighbor and a country that has cracked down on VPNs in a sustained manner. China, where a slew of news sites and social networking pages are blocked by the Great Firewall, allows only government-licensed VPN apps to function. ALSO READ: Apple removes VPN apps from App Store in China Also Read - Mozilla extends deal to use Google Search as default on Firefox browser
Russia joins turbulent Middle Eastern nations like Iraq and Iran in its new VPN policy. While its government says that it is monitoring illegal content only, what falls under the purview of “illegal content” is debatable. In Putin’s third (and much controversial) term as President, the Russian government has exerted immense control over what people post online. “Anti-extremism laws are widely used as a pretext to block political content, often without judicial oversight,” notes Freedom House. ALSO READ: WhatsApp facing partial blocks in China: Report
Last year, Russia passed another law that required telecom and internet service providers (ISPs) to retain traffic data for up to a year. And prior to that, in 2015, the government had passed legislation that required all user data from Russian citizens to be stored in Russia-based servers. Russia already bans a host of sites, including Wikipedia. The current crackdown on VPNs will ensure that citizens will be left in the dark prior to elections in March. This is being seen as Putin’s attempt to control any coverage that challenges his regime.