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Kremlin proposes hefty fines for tech companies neglecting censorship laws

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According to a Reuters report, the Russian government is planning to introduce harsher fines for technology companies which fall foul of federal laws.

The Kremlin has taken steps to clamp down on Internet censorship since 2012, when the government began to collate an Internet blacklist used to censor specified URLs, domain names and IP addresses associated with criminal activity and loosely-defined “extremist” material. Freedom House has reported that this has frequently been used to censor criticism of the Kremlin.

In 2014, a new law was introduced placing legal restrictions on bloggers’ activities. Other laws have clamped down on Internet privacy, with messaging services being told to share encryption keys with security services, social networks being required to store personal user data on servers within the country and a 2017 ban on VPN software and anonymisers.

The Russian information, communications and media regulator (Roscomnadzor) has repeatedly accused tech giants including Facebook and Google of failing to comply with the country’s increasingly strict Internet regulations. Among other instances, Google has been accused by the Kremlin of failing to filter search engine results for banned organisations and content.

Now, the Russian government is planning to step up its Internet regulations, introducing stricter fines on technology companies which fail to comply with its laws. The plans were revealed in a Reuters report, which was informed by three sources familiar with a draft document prepared by the Putin government and circulated among industry figures.

According to the document, technology companies failing to comply with Russian data laws could be subject to a fine of one per cent of its annual revenue in Russia. At present, companies can be charged limited fines, although their services may be subsequently blocked; social network LinkedIn and secure messaging service Telegram have been blocked permanently after falling foul of these laws, while Reddit and GitHub have both suffered temporary bans. Russian authorities would retain the power to block these services, according to the draft legislation.

These proposed fines could be levied several times against a single company if it is found to have committed multiple violations. A Reuters source - from an industry lobby group - commented that technology companies may accept the proposal to raise fines if they replace the practice of blocking offending sites: “Generally speaking, anything that brings order to the system of blocking that has sporadically arisen at various times is an excellent idea,” the source told Reuters.

Governments around the world are in discussions as to how to manage the influence of tech giants, including social networks, amid concern about growth of disinformation, hate speech and other activity online. Germany became the first European country to introduce tough laws requiring social media companies to remove hate speech or face hefty fines, while UK lawmakers are considering the introduction of legal measures to ensure Internet safety.

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