Sites are currently being blocked all around Europe, mostly via court-ordered procedures such as those actioned in several countries against The Pirate Bay.
However, there are other censorship mechanisms coming to the forefront. Developments in Italy mean that from April blockades against file-sharing sites will be initiated without the need for a court order, a worrying development and a slap in the face for due process.
In addition to the common High Court injunction, in the UK there is now ‘voluntary’ site blocking being carried out by ISPs in the form of parental controls that are activated by default. They have already caused outrage by blocking children’s anti-abuse charities and are bound to cause even more trouble during the new year.
Once the site blocking genie was let out of the bottle it was only a matter of time as to when it would cause a proper disaster. Worryingly, a new announcement coming out of Russia is an indicator of what kind of damage could be caused if the wrong people are given access to the website kill-switch.
Telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor is the body responsible for maintaining Russia’s Internet blacklist. Sites can be placed on the blacklist for any number of reasons, from promoting drugs, crime and suicide, to failing to respond to rightholders complaints under the anti-piracy legislation passed earlier this year.
There are already tens of thousands of sites (including file-sharing portals) already on the list but if Roskomnadzor carries through on its latest threats the situation could quickly accelerate out of all proportion.
The problem, the watchdog says, is being caused by foreign hosts and service providers, mainly in the United States, who are refusing to disable access to a range of ‘illegal’ material when Russian authorities ask. The sites they host apparently “hop around” from location to location, but within the same provider, testing Roskomnadzor’s patience.
“We have serious questions about a particular group of providers offering such sites hosting services. We ask them to block content, but they refuse to cooperate with us,” says spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky.
As a result Roskomnadzor says it is considering blocking a range of overseas hosts for failing to comply. They include Ukrainian host Vedekon.ua, Endurance International (US), Hostnoc (US), DataShack (US), Infinitie (US), and the torrent and file-sharing friendly OVH (France) and Voxility (Romania).
While blocking these entire hosts would be a drastic move, when one examines the other sites on the regulator’s list one sees how things could get a whole lot worse.
Stop-ddos.net, staminus.net and incapsula.com are all US-based content-agnostic services that provide websites with DDoS and other security-related protection. Even though they clearly do not provide any illegal content, they are being held responsible for the activities of their customers.
And, as if it couldn’t get any worse, rounding off the Russian list is CloudFlare, a US-based CDN company that assists many hundreds of thousands of sites worldwide. Back in March, CloudFlare experienced technical difficulties which resulted in 750,000 sites being taken offline. If the Russian’s block CloudFlare, similar numbers of sites would be rendered locally inaccessible.
Whether Roskomnadzor carries through with its threats remains to be seen, but even putting the majority of these companies on its list shows that collateral damage is hardly a major concern of theirs.