Ukraine became the latest country to introduce systematic online censorship this month with the government’s announcement of a “cyberpolice” force.
According to the government, the main purpose of Ukraine’s cyberpolice is to combat criminal activity on the Internet, such as identity theft, phishing, money laundering and digital piracy. The force’s creation is part of a broader effort to reform the police in Ukraine.
The authorities are pitching the new unit as a more effective way to combat online crime, since members of the cyberpolice will have special expertise in technology and Internet-related laws that officers from other police agencies lack.
However, the cyberpolice have raised concerns about violations of online privacy and content access even for people who are not involved in criminal activity. That’s mainly because the government has announced plans to create a list of websites that will be blocked for alleged links to criminal groups.
In addition, a government website recently published a slide stating, “Coming soon in the cyberpolice: The creation of online platforms for registration and further blocking of Internet resources that are used to distribute and share forbidden content.”
Tools that let the new cyberpolice block websites could be used to censor any content that the government deems “forbidden,” even if it is not linked to criminals.
Ukraine has already experimented with Internet censorship in the past. In early 2014, the former regime of Viktor Yanukovych blocked content critical of the government during the massive protests that eventually led to Yanukovych’s overthrow.
Because of this bitter history, the new government — whose legitimacy is based in part on the fact that it is not Yanukovych’s regime –may have a hard time selling censorship policies to its citizenry if they extend beyond valid anti-criminal measures. Still, the new tools that the cyberpolice are creating will help to create the infrastructure the government needs to censor content of any type if it wishes.