News / Europe

Russians Battle Over Internet Freedom

A Muscovite surfs a Web site at an Internet cafe in downtown Moscow (2006 file)
A Muscovite surfs a Web site at an Internet cafe in downtown Moscow (2006 file)
James Brooke

A massive hacker attack knocked Russia’s most popular opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, off the internet Friday. Earlier this week, three days of hacker attacks repeatedly knocked out LiveJournal, the nation’s main platform for blogs.

As Russia’s roughly 40 million internet users digested these attacks, the nation’s top communications security official proposed Friday to ban Skype, Hotmail, and Gmail as uncontrolled threats to Russian security. It is unclear if the official from Russia’s FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB, will get his way.

With Russia’s internet users expanding by 10,000 people a day, security officials fret about the internet - a vast, uncontrolled cyberspace.

After the youth revolts spread through the Arab world, the FSB proposed that every Russian user of Facebook and other social networks be required to sign user contracts that included passport information and home addresses.

Andrei Soldatov, an author of a book on the FSB, explains how he views these moves toward internet controls:

"A direct consequence of the events in the Middle East and North Africa, in Tunisia, in Egypt," he said. "Because for many experts and for many politicians, it seems that social networks played a crucial role."

Russia is now in an election year. Parliamentary elections are in December. Presidential elections are in March. The ruling United Russia party won regional elections last month, but with generally reduced showings.

Soldatov sees this week’s hacker attacks as a practice for serious shutdowns later this year, when the campaigning and the vote counting gets hot.

"For me it seems like a test of the technology - how to shut down such an important service," he said.

LiveJournal in Russia hosts almost five million bloggers and receives visits from 13 million users a month.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former parliamentarian and active LiveJournal blogger, said the Kremlin is getting nervous about Russia’s largely uncontrolled blogging space.

Next week, Ryzhkov plans to hold an anti-corruption rally in central Moscow. In March, his opposition colleagues started to use LiveJournal to distribute their new pamphlet entitled, Putin = Corruption.

The attacks first attacked the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, widely considered to be Russia’s leading anti-corruption crusader. Navalny routinely calls Russia’s ruling United Russia party, the party of thieves and swindlers.  After his blog was attacked, he called the attacks a counter-propaganda campaign.

But it soon became apparent that the attackers were aiming at LiveJournal itself.

Ilya Dronov, development manager for the site, the seventh most popular in Russia, wrote on his blog: "Somebody really wants LiveJournal to cease to exist."

Ryzhkov, the opposition leader, pointed his finger at the FSB.  He charges that the FSB has a secret unit with up to 300 technicians dedicated to monitoring and controlling the internet.

In response, Gleb Pavlovsky, pro-Kremlin political analyst, says the opposition is being excessively nervous. He dismissed internet users as young, politically apathetic, and non voters.

The most prominent victim of the LiveJournal shutdowns was Dmitry Medvedev. Russia’s internet savvy President maintains a blog on Live Journal. He is often photographed using an I-pad.

When service was restored Thursday night to LiveJournal, he blogged: "As an active LiveJournal user, I consider these actions outrageous and illegitimate. What happened should be investigated both by the LiveJournal administration and by law enforcement agencies."

Comments posted on the blog back his call for a police crackdown on the hackers.

But Ryzhkov, the opposition leader, is skeptical. He said President Medvedev talks a lot about freedom of speech and internet, but has no control over Russia’s security services. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, is widely seen as ultimately in charge of what are called here the ‘power forces.'

So it seems that a classic Russian battle is shaping up between freedom and control. Only this time, the battle being waged is about cyberspace.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More