Anonymity Lost and Return to Censorship

Beginning in the early 2000’s, Putin has transformed the media system in Russia to a monocentric entity, driven by the promotion of nationalism and heavily monitored. With a number of new amendments and laws enacted over the past two years, the government has been given the power to access and seize an enormous amount of internet generated, user-oriented data. These actions look to be a precursor of even more surveillance in the future, but will there be a domestic resistance?

 

Background

Subsequent to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian media system moved towards a more Western and privatized system. In 1991, the Law on Mass Media was adopted, thus establishing concepts of freedom of speech and privatization. As Russia experienced economic struggles and the government funding was cut, many journalists were jobless. A new free-market system spawned private media oriented companies and the content of journalism altered. Russians experienced more politically oriented pieces, as the elites running for office now owned vast majorities of the media. A “polycentric” model was initiated under President Yeltsin that meant the state remained further away but the new owners and managers of the media were used to manufacture public opinion; large media outlets were owned by Russian oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky (Kommersant Daily), an advisor to President Yeltsin.

In the early 2000s, Vladimir Putin rose to power and began to transform the country’s media system by offering a sense of unified stability to the people. He was not met with much resistance and during these first couple years, various state agencies took control of over 70% of electronic media outlets, 80% of regional press and 20% of the national press.

 

Present Day

In 2012, Putin signed into law an internet blacklist law that allows the government to monitor the internet to honor its integrity and protect children from seeing malicious and harmful content. It targets websites featuring child pornography, details on how to commit suicide and content on illegal drugs. Critics immediately came out against this bill claiming it was another step in the direction of state-wide control of the internet but in a local survey 62%, of those asked supported the blacklist.

Since 2013, telecommunications service providers are obliged to give the Ministry of Internal Affairs and FSB (Federal Security Service) constant access to user information, telephone, and internet activity.  In according with Russian law, nothing may be monitored without a court order, but the FSB is not required to publically disclose such documents.

In 2014, with Putin’s advancement into Ukraine and his efforts to influence the region, it’s no surprise to see domestic control increase. In late April, Russia’s Parliament approved a package of new restrictions on the internet, with blogs and small outlets particularly targeted. Russia’s largest search engine, Yandex has come out in opposition to the law, saying “the adoption of the law will become a yet another step in increasing government control over the Internet in Russia, which will negatively impact the development of the industry.” These laws have gone into effect starting in August and have seen vast criticism. The laws require publishers with 3,000 or more daily readers to register with the mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor. Internet companies must provide the government access to user information, bloggers cannot retain their anonymity, and social networks must retain a data log of six months for subscribers, available to the government upon request. Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch similarly contends the law is "another milestone in Russia's relentless crackdown on free expression.” Russia continues to move towards these trends of state-run surveillance as Putin blames social media for being an open forum for anti-nationalistic behavior. Additionally, a June 2014 law stipulates up to five-year prison sentences for the re-dissemination of extremist materials.

 

Looking Forward

With increasing outcry, both internationally and internally, over the restrictions being placed on Russian citizens, a spike cyber-attacks by non-state actors against the Russian government are likely in the near future. Putin has a firm grasp on information control within his borders throughout all forums of media but stiff and vocal resistance remains. In August, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Twitter account was hacked by a Russian hacking collective Shaltay Boltay. They sent out numerous tweets claiming that Medvedev would be resigning and that he disapproved with Putin’s ideas and direction. Actions similar to this are highly likely to become more prevalent and in context describe a resurgence of samizdat in the digital age.