On Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that requires internet service providers in Russia to unplug from foreign servers, and calls for the creation of a national domain system that would allow the country to stay online if it was ever cut off from the global internet, CNN reported. The law will go into effect on November 1. Russian officials first submitted the measure in December as a response to US cyber strategy following the 2016 presidential election, which the US has accused Russia of trying to manipulate, per Engadget. A state-funded poll found that 52 percent of Russians disapprove of the bill, the Moscow Times reported.

Russia’s lower house of Parliament had passed the bill in mid-April. The law will allow Russia to set up infrastructure for separate Russian Internet or “Runet”, which will allow the country to keep its domestic internet running even when unplugged from non-Russian root servers. It declares that Russia’s national security is at stake, and aims to counter the “aggressive character of the US strategy on national cybersecurity”. 307 lawmakers in the lower house voted for the bill and only 68 voted against it.

A few more details on the law:

  • Although the technical details of how Russia will achieve/set up this infrastructure remain unclear, the law would regulate routing of online traffic and define internet exchange points
  • Russia’s telecom regulator, the Roskomnadzor, will act as the central monitoring body and will take charge in case of an attack
  • All internet providers will report to Roskomnadzor on the flow of their traffic and on their clients

The law is being seen as a way for the Russian government to exercise greater control over platforms that could be used to organise anti-establishment demonstrations and action. It is worth noting that Russia’s telecom watchdog has been pushing to block Telegram, which is used by people opposed to the ruling government as well as opposition activists. The watchdog’s head had said in April that the new law would help fight Telegram. Back in March, after the first reading of the bill, protests erupted in Russian cities with people chanting slogans such as “Hands off the internet” and “No to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet”.

Laws against disrespecting the state, spreading fake news

The new law comes after Putin signed a set of bills in March that made it a crime to disrespect the state and spread fake news by amending existing information laws, the Moscow Times reported. They established punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.” News outlets and users that spread “fake news” will face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles (Rs 16 lakh approx) for repeat offences. Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles (Rs 3.2 lakh approx) and 15 days in jail for repeat offences. More than 100 journalists and public figures signed a petition opposing the laws, which they called “direct censorship”, the report said.