For many years now, Russia has been one of the countries that censor the free flow of information on the Internet. Virtual Private Networks have been the solution to the problem up until this point. However, more recently, the Russian government started a war on VPN providers by blocking a large portion of them. Nevertheless, there are some good providers left on the market that can bypass even Russia’s governmental restrictions and Internet censorship.
But now, a different problem emerges.
A new recently approved bill made using VPNs in Russia even more difficult than it was before. According to the legislation, all search engines will have to delete VPN-related links from their search results and individuals or companies that share VPN related links, or software on the Internet will face penalty fees.
This means that not only will VPNs remain blocked in Russia, but also Internet users won’t be able to read or share VPN related content. So, is there another solution to this problem yet?
A Background on The Russian Legislation
In 2017, the Roskomnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media), made an official VPN ban-list and went one step further in the war against VPN providers. This list banned all providers that weren’t under governmental compliance including some of the most popular and widely used ones on the market. But, apparently this ban was not enough and now Russia is taking this issue even further.
In an amendment, on June 5th, 2018, Maxim Kudryavtsev a representative of the United Russia party together with Nikolay Ryzhak of the Righteous Russia party, and Alexander Yushenko of the Communist Party of Russia proposed some additional changes. More precisely, they proposed charging money to search engines, such as Google or Bing, if they provide Russian users with links from the VPN-related websites that are a part of the ban-list. Not just this, but search engines will be charged for giving results of other online anonymizing services as well.
What Does This Mean?
Roughly said, it means that the Russian government is using all of its resources in order to establish control over the use of the Internet in the country.
For Russia netizens, it means that using the Internet without the governmental surveillance is harder than ever before. Also, they can no longer post any kind of information or links related to the software or other similar tools for hiding your IP address. In case you disobey the law, as an individual, you could be fined with a penalty from $42 to $80 USD (or 3,000 to 5,000 rubles). On the other hand, if you are a functionary that uses its position to promote anonymity in your company, the fees are ten times higher, or from $480 to $800 USD.
For the search engines, this means that they will also pay fines. According to the bill, search engines will be obligated to constantly be aligned with the official ban-list. The Russian Internet users will get filtered results that will not contain anything about these VPNs. If any of these search engines, for example, Google breaks the rule or refuses to ban VPN links, the penalties will vary from $8,000 to $11,300 USD (500,000 to 700,000 rubles).
But that’s not all. The new proposed legislation also states that hosting VPN services can keep avoiding the black-list only if they leak their users’ credentials to the Russian authorities. If they refuse to be part of this and spy on their clients, they will also be fined from $800 to $4,850 USD.
Is There A Solution To The Problem?
The Russian VPN ban didn’t have much of an effect when it comes to suppressing the use of VPN providers. After all, this fight has been fought for many years and VPN service providers have a few tricks up their sleeves as well. This is the reason why search engines got involved in this. There is a possibility for Google and other search engines to get banned if they don’t comply with the new rules.
However, the number of Russian VPN users has noted a dramatic increase, especially after the ban. This is just one more indication that the ban and this new legislation will most likely fail. Besides, the bill itself has flaws and I highly doubt that it will show results any time soon as it’s not really clear how this new law will be enforced. Also, Russia’s ban has never been the strictest one, compared to China’s Great Firewall, and can be easily bypassed.
With this being said, there are still some providers that can be used in Russia, and as long as there are strong VPN service providers on the market, the netizens should not fear for their safety and online anonymity.