On July 16, 2010, Komsomolsk-on-Amur city court issued a decision [RUS] requested by the city prosecutor. The decision requires a local Internet provider “Rosnet” to block IP-addresses of five websites: lib.rus (the judge meant lib.rus.ec, a Russian Internet library), thelib.ru, www.zhurnal.ru, web.archive.org, and… youtube.com.
The court believes those websites host extremist content (several online copies of “Mein Kampf” and a video “Russia for Russians” that accompanied a skinhead-related song uploaded by a user from Serbia [RUS]) while the provider was accused of “not blocking them.” The court decision says:
…the inspection conducted by the Prosecutor's Office showed that the Internet provider (the defendant) failed to ensure the security of the users of the global network properly. Komsomolsk-on-Amur residents have free access to extremist and terrorist websites that promote ideas of public organizations, contain statements aimed at inciting hatred and hostility towards a group of people based on ethnicity, attitude towards religion, as well as belonging to the authorities, and justification of the terrorist activities prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation.
in order to restore the violated rights of the citizens and to enforce the current law, access… to the Internet sites … should be limited by adding rules of the IP-filtration of the aforementioned websites to the router.
Marker.ru published [RUS] an interview with prosecutor Vladimir Pakhomov, who said that “a provider is obliged to filter information that goes through its channels to the World Wide Web,” and didn't exclude the possibility of filtering Vkontakte.ru and other social networks.
The court's decision, however, hasn't been enforced yet. The provider managed to appeal [RUS] on time and is waiting for the decision of a higher instance court.
Numerous mistakes (both spelling and factual) in the court decision attracted attention [RUS] of various bloggers, highlighting a low level of computer (and general) literacy of a person who wrote the decision. Besides, the measure of IP-filtering is both expensive and inefficient (for various reasons), argued Rosnet in a detailed press release published on its website. Russian Google said [RUS] the decision might be a serious threat for the development of the Internet in Russia's Far East.
Previously, GV reported on other cases of similar accusations against providers (here, here, and here/a>, and many others that were not documented). Until now, however, prosecutors have been demanding to close only small websites. With YouTube, the technique of content removal/blocking was slightly different. The Russian authorities addressed YouTube directly with demands to delete certain videos, and the service usually complied [RUS].
“Rosnet” cited [RUS] two similar cases that were initiated but lost by the same Prosecutor's Office in April and May 2010. Recently, Sova-center reported on a court decision in Chita region, also in the Far East Region: Chita city court obliged a local provider to block the website of “Russian Zabaikalie” because of the neo-Nazi content. Both Chita and Komsomolsk-on-Amur are within 200-300 kilometers from the border with China, a country with the most severe Internet filtering systems. Besides, Komsomolsk-on-Amur has some of the highest Internet prices [EN] and some of the lowest numbers of social network users among cities with the population of more than 200,000 people.
So what is it? Is it geographical proximity that makes blocking practices so tempting, or a technical backwardness? Or, a general trend towards a nation-wide system of content blocking? Stupidity of the local authorities or the beginning of the Great Russian Firewall?
Both, concludes Anton Nossik, IT entrepreneur and a popular blogger. In his column at snob.ru, where Nossik analyzed [RUS] the unusual expansion of the list of extremist materials [RUS] (which grew from 218 items in 2008 to almost 700 now), he quite cynically writes about such prosecution of “extremism”:
The master plan made it down to the level of executives, who actually didn't have any motivation for ideological control. So the system started working on the order from the bosses… The police and the prosecutor's office got an [overall plan] that foresaw the exposure of extremist materials on the territory they control, virtual or real. … “experts” appeared, who were ready to replicate assessments recognizing as extremist any material they received from their [superiors]. The practice of issuing court decisions also became routine. Novosibirsk region's Federal Security Service was the first one to try out the idea of demanding IP-filtration of banned servers from local providers four years ago […].
As a result of all this mess, the country got a significant and absurd production line. The federal list of extremist materials, as well as the recent decision to ban YouTube in Komsomolsk-on-Amur are its products. Thousands of police officers, prosecutors and court employees are involved in the work of this production line all over the country. All these people couldn't care less about freedom of speech or about suppressing it, but they all have a plan, and [every three months] they have to report about the completed work. And we have what we have: a pile of absurd and inefficint bans with zero practical result – be it in the fight against extremism or even local limiting of access to the censored works. All this futile activity is being carried out only for appearance's sake, for paperwork. And the main stimulus for the local bureaucrats that could explain the high level of activity in this direction is the extraordinary simplicity of all these procedures, the ease of reporting a successfully-fulfilled job, and no control whatsoever of its usefulness and efficiency from the above.
Nossik concluded that Russia's police “are able to bury any disgusting totalitarian idea,” be it censorship or total surveillance. Although the reality described by Nossik is somewhat true, the case of the first YouTube ban in Russia is the result of a steady and consistent development. Blog or video platforms (like YouTube) are becoming more dangerous for individual bloggers, since the attempts to ban LiveJournal or Facebook after they hosted questionable material are becoming increasingly probable.