Russia Considers New Domain-Blocking Censorship Rules

by Tracy Knauer •

Russian government authorities may soon increase their ability to censor online content by blocking registration of websites on certain top-level domains, which could pose challenges even for people who use anti-censorship services to access blocked sites.

Roscomnadzor, the agency that regulates media and Internet content in Russia, already has the authority to block entire websites, as well as specific URLs, for Internet users inside Russia. However, that doesn’t prevent access to the sites from other countries, or via anti-censorship tools like Tor or VPN.

Now, according to reports, the Russian government is considering extending Roscomnadzor’s powers so that it can prevent the registration of sites using certain top-level domains that are popular in Russia. That would block the sites entirely for people everywhere.

Fortunately for anti-censorship advocates, Roscomnadzor would still lack the ability to block the registration of sites using top-level domains that are not based in Russia, like .com or .org. The Russian government has a history of blocking some sites using those domains, such as YouTube and Wikipedia, for users inside the country, but it lacks the ability to shut them down entirely.

Still, expanded censorship powers for Roscomnadzor would not bode well for Internet freedom in Russia. They could also have a deleterious effect even on users abroad who want to access content that the Russian government deems illegal.

The domains affected are .ru and .рф, which are the top-level domains for Russia. (.ru is for sites that use Latin characters, while .рф is for those that use the Cyrillic alternative.)

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