For the past several years, Russia has been attempting to censor the Internet by restricting access to a large range of sites. With thousands blocked, pirate sites are some of the main targets but any site with content objectionable to the state can find itself in the crosshairs.
As more blocks have been introduced, the response by many Internet users has been to circumvent them. For pirate sites, proxies and mirrors have been a key mechanism but increasingly citizens have turned to VPNs and other anonymizers that are able to skirt around any ban.
As a result, VPNs and anonymizers themselves have come under scrutiny, with authorities demanding that those operating in Russia register themselves with the state. Of course, many do not, which has led to a cat-and-mouse game.
Historically it’s been easy to find a VPN or similar service using search engines but the Russian Government has a new tool to make that harder. This week, following a third and final reading, the State Duma adopted a bill introducing fines for search engines that provide links to outlawed sites, VPNs and anonymization tools.
According to the amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation, failure of online services to stop publishing links to blocked information resources will result in fines of 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($48 to $80) for citizens, up to 50,000 rubles ($800) for officials, and between 500,000 to 700,000 ($8,019 to $11,227) for legal entities.