While Russia has a long history of internet censorship and surveillance, the country plans to go even farther and step into the darkness to launch its own domestic internet. After invading Ukraine, the Russian government tightened its grip over the local media to hide its war crimes from citizens. However, a government-owned internet is something entirely different.
In 2019, Russia passed a controversial cybersecurity bill that allows the government to isolate the country’s internet from the rest of the world. It’s likely nobody believed that this scenario could become reality.
Russian officials claim that last year they successfully conducted the first tests and managed to cut the country off from the internet. However, no specific information explaining how long the disconnection lasted and how it affected regular users was published.
Amidst the war in Ukraine, Russia announced plans to reduce dependence on Western services and implement its own domestic internet. This turn of events could only mean one thing for Russian citizens: more restrictions, surveillance, and prosecution.
While creating a domestic internet is technically possible, Russia doesn’t want to close itself in a box. The country seeks to create a local internet and at the same time have access to the “normal” internet.
This means that Russia will have to unplug itself from the global DNS (domain name system) infrastructure, which translates the domain name to an IP address. The majority of DNS servers are located in the US, revealing why Russia wants to create its own alternative.
If Russia succeeds in creating a local DNS infrastructure, it would allow its government to have full control of the internet. ISPs would also be forced to use pre-approved exchange points inside the country.
After Russia started the war, the Kremlin restricted access to Facebook and Twitter and suffocated independent media outlets. With international companies like Apple and Microsoft withdrawing their services from Russia, the country’s citizens are shoved behind an iron curtain.
Recently, Russia even introduced a new law punishing “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. The ban encompasses both local media outlets and international news organizations like CNN. However, a Russia-only internet would make the lives of millions of Russians even more miserable.
Lost access to services. Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft cloud services would stop working in addition to a handful of other online tools widely used by both individuals and Russian businesses. This situation would mean millions of lost dollars, striking a significant blow to the economy, and push local companies into exile.
Censorship. The Russian government would be able to decide what websites and online services its citizens could access. While Russia has already banned many Western media outlets, having its own internet would give the Kremlin more power.
Online surveillance. A local-only internet would allow the government to monitor everything its citizens do online, suppress critical voices, and prosecute the opposition. The last crumbs of independent journalism and human rights activism would be wiped out in Russia.
IT experts claim it’s impossible to create a domestic internet while using international services maintained by foreign companies. However, the Russian government is already working towards it.
All state-owned websites have to move to locally operated DNS by March 11, delete Java script codes downloaded from foreign services, and adopt the .ru domain extension. While local authorities say these actions will help to prevent cyberattacks, critics have no doubt the directive is just another step towards controlling the internet.
It’s still unknown if the new local internet will ever be created. Russia has a clear anti-Western agenda, but this might be a bite too big to swallow. Either way, it’s bad news for freedom of speech and online privacy.
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