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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs