A Russian court yesterday ruled that websites which don’t remove Pussy Riot videos from their pages may be blocked. Judge Marina Musimovich (using a vaguely worded law originally aimed at curbing nazi and terrorist material) ruled that videos including the band’s controversial ‘punk prayer’ asking the virgin Mary to kick out Putin, had “elements of extremism” and called for “mass disorder”.
It’s a timely reminder of why Russia are so keen on some of the proposals they’re bringing to the International Telecommunication Union’s WCIT conference in Dubai over the next fortnight. If they pass, this sort of thing will get vastly easier for autocratic states to curb freedom of speech at home and abroad.
Russia will be seeking to use a new treaty at WCIT to place an obligation on telcos to engage in deep packet inspection (monitoring the detail of what everybody is looking at online), so they can comply with requests from national governments to block services they don’t like, or in Russia’s words don’t consider “rational” uses of the Net.
So rather than having to enforce a ban on a particular YouTube embed on Russian hosted sites, Putin would be able to turn off access to it for Russians, regardless of where in the world it was hosted.
Of course, yesterday’s ruling proves that Russia already has some ability to censor the Net domestically, with this loose interpretation of anti-terror laws, and with other laws aimed at blocking whole services which the authorities claim could be hosting material harmful to children. But when they do this, it’s both tricky to execute and politically embarrassing for them to be shown up as autocrats.
If this becomes the default position on the Net, enshrined by UN treaty, Russia and other states can act with impunity, banning and blocking more easily as they want, whilst at the same time claiming to their people that it’s merely standard practice for all countries, not something that only bad regimes engage in, as they’re only following UN guidelines.
If the ITU conference in Dubai comes to a vote, it could be finely balanced, and without national vetos, if states like Russia get their way, it could cause real problems for the operation of the Net and freedoms we need to preserve online.
So please help by signing the ITUC/TUC petition to ITU delegates in Dubai.
And make sure to watch punk prayer in solidarity!