President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that prohibits forms of technology that grant access to banned websites in Russia, effective November 1st. The ban covers services that allow people to use the internet anonymously, such as virtual private networks and proxies, and internet providers will have to block websites that host these services.
Leonid Levin, Russia’s chairman of a parliamentary committee on information policy and communications, told news agency RIA Novosti earlier in the month that the law “only included the restriction of access to information that is already forbidden by law or a court decision.”
Russia’s Federal website blacklist, introduced in 2012, was originally meant to apply to sites that had content on illegal drugs, child pornography, and suicide, but a 2013 amendment expanded to any content “suspected of extremism.” The amendment allows for flexible interpretation, letting Russia ban any material that criticizes its views or appears to weaken the government’s power. In 2015, for example, Russia briefly banned both Reddit and Wikipedia over single pages that contained content on drug use. At the time, Nikolay Kononov, editor-in-chief of the digital business magazine SecretMag.ru said the moves were less about the content and more about “show[ing] they can ban whatever they want, whenever they want. It’s a show of intimidation, like two boxers circling each other in a ring.”
Russia is not the only country to ban VPNs — earlier this month China said it would place restrictions on unauthorized VPNs, and recently, all VPN apps were removed from China’s version of Apple’s App Store.