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Russia Considers Banning The Use Of Tor and Virtual Private Networks

Monday, July 6th, 2015

The Russian government is planning to introduce a blanket ban on the use of anonymity services like Tor and Virtual Private Networks inside the country. While speaking at the Infoforum-2015, Russian Member of Parliament Leonid Levin indicated that access to anonymity services like Tor, VPN and proxies should be restricted for all Russian citizens. There have also been reports in the Russian media that FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov has asked for the creation of new laws that would make it illegal to use such services within the country.

In 2012, the Russian authorities introduced a new legislation that authorized blocking of websites for a number of reasons. While the law was meant to check dangerous content on the web, Russian Telecom service provider Roskomnadzor has also used it to block hundreds of webpages on reputed websites. Not to be content with this, the Russian authorities then introduced the Blogger’s law which makes it compulsory for bloggers of popular blogs to register their details with the government. The Russian government has also recently enacted a data retention law which makes it mandatory for Wi-Fi providers to collect personal details of all users.

The use of anonymity services exploded in Russia soon after the government introduced the Blacklist legislation. The popularity of VPN and Tor increased further when the government introduced the Blogger’s law. As per reliable estimates, about 150,000 Russian citizens use Tor on a daily basis and users from the country account for as much as 6% of the total number of Tor users. As far as the number of VPN users is concerned, about a quarter of all Russian netizens rely on VPNs to anonymize their online sessions.

The Russian authorities have been attacking Tor for quite some time. The Chief Press Officer of Russia’s Federal Authority on Telecommunications has described Tor as a den of criminals. The authorities are also against the service since it is considered as a tool which allows the citizens to bypass the stringent censorship imposed by the government. However, the real reason could as well be political since Tor and VPNs are often used by activists and citizens to organize protests against the government. The authorities are not only planning to ban the use of anonymity services, they are also envisioning an increased role of Roskomnadzor in blocking and censoring content.

While Russia wants to ban the use of Tor and VPNs, it would be very difficult to implement it in practice. It must be noted that while a lot of countries have successfully blocked individual VPN services, only one (China) has managed to block Tor completely. Russia would need to follow the example of China and create a security framework similar to the Great Firewall of China from scratch if it is serious about blocking Tor. Until the authorities gets such an exhaustive security system in place, Russian citizens can continue to enjoy the anonymity offered by Tor though the same cannot be said about VPNs.

July 6, 2015

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