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Russia: all to keep the ctrl of the Net

Its author calls it "Law on Internet Security and Resilience in Russia", his opponents talk about "Law of Internet isolation", even "Digital iron curtain". Finally, it was under number 608767-7 that the Russian Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill by Senator Andreï Klichas aimed at "Ensure the functioning of the internet network in Russia", even if a "Foreign power" was trying to disconnect it. Since its announcement in December, this law has provoked an outcry in civil society: "The current power is a classic authoritarian regime, it needs to control everything, including the Internet," denounces the Open Russia opposition movement. The Russian Union of Entrepreneurs warns of a "disaster" ; Internet rights advocate Dmitri Marinichev talks about "madness".

The scope of this bill goes well beyond considerations of strategic security: it is also to complete the influence exercised on the Internet by the Russian state. Russia already has a degree of control beyond the reach of the European countries on the "high layers" of cyberspace, that is to say, the published contents and the platforms hosting them. The country has its own digital ecosystem: Yandex, the "Google Russian", holds 53% of the search engine market, VKontakte is the first social network and the most visited site in the country, the group is the first host As many national champions giving credibility to a legislative arsenal as effective as recent.

Before the winter of 2011-2012, the authorities are not particularly interested in the control of the Internet, but the big demonstrations denouncing the rigging of the legislative elections of 2011, and the return to the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin, in 2012, change the deal . Widely organized on social networks, they worry the Russian state that sees a risk of destabilization. "Today, in power there are people born in the 50s. The Internet scares them, they do not understand it, and look with envy at the Chinese model", says Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and member of the Russian Council for Human Rights. Putin himself did not hesitate to describe the Internet as "A CIA project".


The repressive turn is not slow. Article 282, prohibiting the broadcasting of content "extremist", interpreted very vaguely, punishes both neo-Nazi statements and calls to demonstrate against the government. From 2012 to 2018, between 200 and 300 net users per year were sentenced to up to five years in prison. So in September 2015, Rafis Kachapov, representative of a Tatar cultural association, was sentenced to three years of camp for criticism judged "Extremists" of Russian politics in Ukraine. In 2014, after refusing to give the Federal Security Service (FSB) the identities of the organizers of several anti-government groups, VKontakte founder Pavel Durov was forced to resign and left Russia.

The social network falls into the purse of the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, a close friend of Putin. In 2015, the law obliges web services to host in Russia the personal data of Russian citizens. In 2016, the "Yarovaya Law" obliges Russian service providers to provide "secret doors" (secret access) to the Russian security services. And what does it matter if these laws are often inapplicable at the time of their adoption? "When the law is passed, the technical tools do not exist yet, explains Kevin Limonier, author of Geopolitics of the Russian-speaking cyberspace (The Inventory, 2018). But these laws are not meant to be applied as a whole: they are both a tool of pressure on companies […] and a way of [les] push to innovate in a certain way. "

Thus, in spring 2018, when the encrypted e-mail service Telegram, created by the same Dourov, refuses to give the FSB its encryption keys, the Russian justice orders its blocking. This is a total fiasco: the mail regularly changing the addresses of its servers, the government is forced to block entire ranges of IP addresses. As a result, Amazon and Google services are breaking down, disrupting business and government operations and crippling the Kremlin museum, while Telegram's operations are only marginally disrupted. The case casts a harsh light on the limits of Russian digital sovereignty when it comes to fighting against a service that is not domiciled in the country.

Taking control of the "lower layers" of cyberspace, ie its physical infrastructure, is not only a matter of strategic security for Russia: it is also a condition for more effective application of its legislative arsenal. and prevent the circumvention of its blockages.

Fuzzy goals

But at this level, Russia's position is far from strong. Unlike China, where it was introduced in a controlled and centralized manner, the Internet developed in Russia in an anarchistic way in the 1990s. The Russian network is multiple and decentralized to the extreme, its points of contact with the world. are many. There are still more than 10,000 different Internet service providers across the country today, some operating on a single region, city, or neighborhood scale!

Read alsoInternet: States between "digital sovereignty" and "strategic autonomy"

Centralized control of the Internet infrastructure in Russia on the Chinese model is therefore not the order of the day. "The real goal is political, analyzes Kevin Limonier. It is about affirming Russia's ability to protect its sovereignty on the Internet; we are more in communication than in the action of creating a Chinese-style network. In any case, the Russians can not afford it at the moment. "

The text of the law also mentions only very vague objectives: "Ensuring the centralization of internet traffic", "Limit access to prohibited information"… and refers the concrete solutions to the appreciation of the Russian government. "It's more of a budget request than a real bill," criticism Ekaterina Schulmann. After having ensured that his law would not require any particular financing, Senator Klichas estimates now at 20 billion rubles (270 million euros) the budget necessary for the implementation of his project.

Lucien Jacques Correspondent in Moscow



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