While there is still much resistance to the practice in the United States, having websites blocked at the ISP level is becoming easier in many other countries around the world.
One country where the process is becoming ever more streamlined is Russia. The country blocks hundreds of websites on many grounds, from copyright infringement to the publication of extremist propaganda, suicide discussion and the promotion of drugs.
Keeping a close eye on Russia’s constantly expanding website blocklist is RosComSvoboda. The project advocates human rights and freedoms on the Internet, monitors and publishes data on blockades, and provides assistance to Internet users and website operators who are wrongfully subjected to restrictions.
Now, however, RosKomSvoboda will have to fight for its own freedoms after a local court ordered ISPs to block an advice portal operated by the group.
The site, RUBlacklist, is an information resource aimed at users who wish to learn about tools that can be used to circumvent censorship. It doesn’t host any tools itself but offers advice on VPNs, proxies, TOR and The Pirate Bay’s Pirate Browser.
Also detailed are various anonymizer services (which are presented via a linked Google search), Opera browser’s ‘turbo mode’ (which is often used in the UK to unblock torrent sites) and open source anonymous network I2P (soon to feature in a Popcorn Time fork).
Unfortunately, Russian authorities view this education as problematic. During an investigation carried out by the Anapa district’s prosecutor’s office it was determined that RosKomSvoboda’s advice undermines government blocks.
“Due to anonymizer sites, in particular http://rublacklist.net/bypass, users can have full access to all the banned sites anonymously and via spoofing. That is, with the help of this site, citizens can get unlimited anonymous access to banned content, including extremist material,” a ruling from the Anapa Court reads.
Describing the portal as an anonymization service, the Court ordered RosKomSvoboda’s advice center to be blocked at the ISP level.
Needless to say the operators of RosKomSvoboda are outraged that their anti-censorship efforts will now be censored. Group chief Artyom Kozlyuk slammed the decision, describing both the prosecutor’s lawsuit and the Court ruling as “absurd”.
“Law enforcement has demonstrated its complete incompetence in the basic knowledge of all the common technical aspects of the Internet, though even youngsters can understand it,” Kozlyuk says.
“Anonymizers, proxies and browsers are multitask instruments, helping to search for information on the Internet. If we follow the reasoning of the prosecutor and the court, then the following stuff should be prohibited as well: knives, as they can become a tool for murder; hammers, as they can be used as a tool of torture; planes, because if they fall they can lead to many deaths.
“To conclude, I would love to ask the prosecutor of Anapa to consider the possibility of prohibiting paper and ink, because with these tools one can draw a very melancholic picture of this ruling’s complete ignorance.”
RosKomSvoboda’s legal team say they intend to appeal the ruling which was the result of a legal procedure that took place without their knowledge.
“We can only guess why the project is considered to be an anonymizer. It’s likely that no one in Anapa city court understands what they are dealing with,” says RosKomSvoboda lawyer Sarkis Darbinian.
“We see that these kinds of rulings are being stamped on a legal conveyor belt. Moreover, we see the obvious violation of the fundamental principles of civil procedure – an adversarial system.”
The court ruling against RUBlacklist arrives at the same time as a report from the United Nations which urges member states to do everything they can to encourage encryption and anonymity online.