The Russian Federation Council has approved a bill that would outlaw the use of virtual private networks, the Tor network, anonymous mobile messaging services and internet proxy services in general.
The move follows the unanimous passage of the measure by the lower parliament, the State Duma, on Friday. The bill now goes to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into the law.
Over the weekend, privacy-advocate protests erupted across Moscow, according to reports.
The bill requires ISPs to block any websites that allow the use of VPN services. Lawmakers said that the move was prompted by concerns about the spread of terrorist-related materials; others said that the crackdown is a move to enforce censorship and limit dissent and political opposition.
Roskomnadzor, the Russian state’s internet watchdog, officially bans certain kinds of content, like child pornography, illicit drug information and how-tos on suicide. It also bans a fourth, less well-defined bucket of content that is deemed “explicit”, which includes terrorist propaganda but also other types of information that the state considers dangerous.
There are also bans in place on global services that don’t fall into any of these categories. For example, Russia has recently blocked LinkedIn, Wikipedia and other popular international websites and banned their associated apps, about 1,200 in total, according to NordVPN, a privacy-focused VPN provider that doesn’t keep user logs and has thousands of Russian users, many of whom have been sending messages of concern, it said. It added that in their place, Russia is launching its own websites, such as the Sputnik news service, known to produce false news.
However, this is not internet censorship that uses the same bullet-proof prowess of China’s famed Great Firewall. Typically, when banned content is uncovered, Roskomnadzor sends a notice to the website host, which is expected to notify the owners of the problematic website that it will be shut down if the prohibited content is not removed. If the site doesn’t comply, ISPs are required to block the webpage—a situation which Roskomnadzor enforces with manual checks.
If the content is deemed “extremist,” the site is blocked without notice.