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Russia To Ban VPN Providers That Refuse To Aid Censorship

Published: June 14, 2019
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Source: Tech Dirt

Back in 2016 Russia introduced a new surveillance bill promising to deliver greater security to the country. Of course, as with so many similar efforts around the world the bill actually did the exact opposite -- not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but also imposing harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers. As a result, some VPN providers like Private Internet Access wound up leaving the country after finding their entire function eroded and having some of their servers seized.

Last March Russia upped the ante, demanding that VPN providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, and HideMyAss help block forbidden websites that have been added to Russia's censorship watchlist. Not surprisingly those companies balked at the request, and now Russia's moving on to what was the goal from the start: banning these companies from doing business entirely.

"The VPN services in question were given a limited time to respond (30 days) but according to Roscomnadzor, most are digging in their heels. In fact, of the companies contacted with the demands, only one has agreed to the watchdog’s terms.

“We sent out ten notifications to VPNs. Only one of them – Kaspersky Secure Connection – connected to the registry,” Roscomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov informs Interfax.

“All the others did not answer, moreover, they wrote on their websites that they would not comply with Russian law. And the law says unequivocally if the company refuses to comply with the law – it should be blocked."

Again, this is framed to suggest that this is all a very sensible process featuring measured application of the law for the betterment of society as a whole. But Russia's goal from the beginning has been to effectively ban VPN use... without making too obvious that that was the overall goal. After all, it's difficult to engage in surveillance of Putin critics and pesky punk rockers if they're hiding their traffic behind a VPN. Alexander Zharov, head of Russian media and telecom regulator Roscomnadzor, does yeoman's work pretending to be upset about the course of events:

"These ten VPNs do not exhaust the entire list of proxy programs available to our citizens. I don’t think there will be a tragedy if they are blocked, although I feel very sorry about it,” Zharov concludes."

But over the course of the last five years or so, Russia has made it increasingly difficult to do business as a VPN provider. Now, unless you're willing to engage in outright censorship, retain all logs, and be at the beck and call of the Russian government, you're effectively banned from doing business in the country at all.

Unfortunately for Russia and every other government with similarly oppressive internet pipe dreams (including the US), these efforts usually wind up devolving into an absurd, unwinnable game of cat and mouse that only really advertises how terrified some leaders are of open expression and an unfiltered internet.

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