NEW YORK—Russia’s passage of a bill which would require telecommunications companies to redirect all Internet traffic through government-controlled routing points is a deeply alarming development for digital freedom in the country, and a troubling advancement of “digital sovereignty” at the expense of human rights, PEN America said today.

On Tuesday, February 12, the Russian State Duma passed a first draft of legislation that will require telecom companies to redirect all Internet traffic within the country through routing points under the control of the Russian state. Such a requirement would provide the government with broad regulatory capacity to block online communications or to prevent access to specific websites. The legislation would also require the creation of a national Domain Name System (DNS) to link domain names with IP addresses, which would grant Russian authorities additional power over which websites are accessible within Russia.

The bill was supported by legislators from United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, while legislators from all other political parties within the country voted against the bill. The bill’s co-authors include Senator Andrey Klishas, who has previously advocated for censorship of “online content that disrespects the authorities.” Several Russian media outlets have described the plan to control all Internet traffic as an “Internet Iron Curtain.”

“This latest legislation represents another deeply worrying development for freedom of expression in Russia,” says PEN America’s Eurasia Project Director Polina Kovaleva. “The bill passed this week, which has an extremely tenuous national security justification, would essentially provide the government with veto power over the online communication and behavior of its citizens. This bill promises little more than an intensified chilling effect on Russian digital communication and expression, and, particularly alarmingly, suggests Russia has its eyes on isolating the internet within its borders, along the lines of the Chinese ‘Great Firewall.’ We condemn this legislation as a thinly-veiled attempt to control and censor online expression in Russia.”

Russia and China have emerged as powerful proponents of efforts to restrict human rights online in the name of “digital sovereignty,” as documented in PEN America’s March 2018 report, Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media in China. PEN America has spoken out against reports of collaboration between Google and Russia to censor search results, mirroring a similar attempt to create a censored search engine for Chinese Internet users, known as Project Dragonfly. In May 2018, PEN America was among 53 international human rights, media, and internet freedom organizations to Russia’s attempts to block the internet messaging service Telegram.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org