July 12, 2012, 1:36 PM — The Russian legislature's lower house on Wednesday adopted a bill that, according to tech companies in the country, could lead to Internet censorship.
The bill, which includes amendments to several current laws, still needs to be signed and in the meanwhile Russian tech companies continue to protest the legislation, trying to influence the political process before the bill is formally adopted by the upper house.
The bill passed by Russia's lower house, the State Duma, aims to make it easier to block sites that host child pornography, promote drugs or provide instructions about how to commit suicide. But the Russian IT industry sees a basis for Internet censorship because it is unclear how the blocking procedure will work.
The industry is mainly protesting the bill because the State Duma has proposed to block websites through IP and DNS blockades.
Despite approval of the law, Wikipedia Russia, the initiator of the protests that decided to block access to its own site in protest Tuesday, is mildly positive.
"Our protests had an effect," said Vladimir Medeyko, director of the Russian Wikimedia foundation, in an email. Although the protest did not have the same effect as the online upheaval against SOPA in the U.S. (the bill was put on ice), there nevertheless was an impact, Medeyko said.
Even though the bill was passed by the State Duma, several significant amendments were introduced the night before the vote, Medeyko said. The definition of illegal content became much clearer, and the list of authorities who may decide which sites can be blacklisted became shorter, he said. The FSB, Russia's successor of the KGB, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, were excluded from the list, he said. According to the latest draft of the law, Rostelecom, Russia's state-controlled telecommunications operator, is the only non-government body that can blacklist parts of Russia's Internet, said Medeyko.
In addition, the legislators agreed to include representatives of Wikipedia's parent organization, Wikimedia, in the working group overseeing the bill and its implementations, Medeyko said. This was a breakthrough, he said, since members of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC), an NGO that represents the Russian IT industry, were rejected at an earlier stage.
However, representatives from RAEC, and possibly also Wikimedia representatives, are to be included in a working group from the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media that will look at possible amendments to the law, Medeyko said.