The Russian government has suspended its controversial internet bill after Wikipedia's Russian service blacked out its pages for 24-hours in protest on July 10. Legislators insist however that the bill will still be passed by the end of October.
The bill passed the first of three readings in the State Duma on July 6, and was due to be debated on July 10 in a second reading. However, following a storm of protest - with Wikipedia's blackout the star turn - government officials announced that the bill will now be delayed until autumn session of parliament, although they claimed that the legislation needs only small corrections.
Visitors to Wikipedia on July 10 were met with a statement warning of the dangers of the bill. "The Wikipedia community protests censorship, which threatens free knowledge for mankind," it read. "We ask you to support us in the fight against this bill. Adding that the move could replicate the "great Chinese firewall," the statement continued: "These amendments could become the basis for real censorship on the internet, as well as the formation of a list of banned sites and IP addresses with filtered information."
The bill, which gives the government extensive power to control content on the Internet, has caused a hue and cry from across the board, and even from state-owned organisations such as broadcaster NTV. That has seen a unique team formed, as the company joined civil rights activists and Internet service providers in criticizing the government for attempting to introduce censorship of RuNet, as the Russian-language internet is known. The fact that much of the organisation of recent protests against the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin was done online has not gone unmentioned.
"The bill contains a large number of contradictions and extremely subjective statements," Eduard Sagalayev, president of the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters, wrote in an open letter - which NTV, privately-owned Ren-TV, and others helped draft - to Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin. Among other things, the bill includes provisions for a "unified digital blacklist" of all websites deemed to carry "damaging" content.
However, the draft legislation enjoys the support of all four party factions in the Duma, and the government says it remains committed to pushing it through, albeit with minor revisions. "I'm sure that this bill will be passed, that by the second reading it will be possible to eliminate the few controversial elements," Press and Communications Minister Nikolai Nikoforov said on Twitter, adding that the bill would be approved by November 1, reports The Moscow Times. "I don't support Wiki. ... But this step is an important reaction from society, a sign that we must perfect the bill," he said.
The idea of the blacklist originated last year from Russia's League of Internet Security after the watchdog said it had broken up an international ring of 130 alleged pedophiles circulating material online. According to the draft document, the unified roster of banned websites will be run by a federal agency to be appointed by the government. The agency will have the right to add items to the blacklist, as will the courts, which already have the authority to ban extremist and other types of content that violates Russian legislation.
The supporters of the blacklist believe it would curb the spread of online pornography and propaganda of extremism. However, opponents insist that the current version of the bill cannot be an effective tool for rooting out such content as it will not prevent "dirty" users from migrating to other domains and IP-addresses.
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