With net neutrality dead in the US, the world superpower becomes one of those nations to restrict the freedom of the Internet. Among other such nations is Russia, which has been embroiled in various controversies over the past several decades. With the FIFA World Cup 2018 being staged in Russia this summer, many people who’re traveling there to watch the tournament live in person are asking the same question: Is VPN legal in Russia? Is it safe to use VPN in Russia?
Russia’s Restrictions and Censorship
From its relationship with other nations to its national policies, whatever Russia does draws attention. Even though not strictly an authoritarian regime, Russia is not a free country either because there are several restrictions. In 2016 Russia passed a law that prohibits the preaching of the gospel anywhere outside the church.
The law bars Christians from assembling anywhere other than a church to discuss the gospel. Moreover, under the law Christians cannot invite anyone over email to church or to any evangelical gathering. The law also limits missionary work, such as teaching, preaching, and promoting any religious activity.
In 2017, Russia banned US media and also imposed social media restrictions after suspicions that the American government was creating pressure on certain Russian TV channels.
There are also restrictions on foreign media outlets in the country. Even if not on that level, Russia is in the race to become another China. Now, Russia has added one more restriction to the list, and that is virtual private networks. Again, Russia is on the wrong side of history and logic.
Most recently, the Russian government has banned the messenger app Telegram citing terrorism as a reason.
Cat and Mouse Game
For a long time, Internet censorship has been a game of cat and mouse between the government and the citizens. To avoid government restrictions and get free access to all websites and applications, people in Russia use VPNs.
But in new bill the government makes it mandatory for all search engines to delete VPN-related links from their search results and comply with Roscomnadzor ban-lists. This includes both Individuals and organizations. Anyone sharing links to VPN-related sites will be termed a criminal and have to pay fines. And the penalties aren’t gentle either.
The new bill, passed on June 5th, 2018, warns everyone from Google to common people that VPNs cannot be used or promoted.
The amendment was added to the 2017 law called “On Anonymizers”. Nikolay Ryzhak of the Righteous Russia party, Maxim Kudryavtsev of the United Russia party, and Alexander Yushenko of the Communist Party of Russia came up with the proposition to charge money to corporations such as Google, Bing, Yandex, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines that provide Russian Internet users with the links to VPNs and other anonymizing services.
Under the new regulation, search engines will have to comply with Roscomnadzor’s official ban-lists, where the blocked sites will be stored and filtered out for the Russian audience. Anyone not willing to comply will have to face heavy penalties. This makes most people believe that the ban is just a way of making some extra money by penalizing companies.
What Are The Penalties?
All penalties for not complying with the regulation are monetary. If a company like Google or DuckDuckGo refuses to ban VPN related links and information in search results, they will be fined anything between 500,000 and 700,000 rubles, which is approximately $8,000 to $11,300.
For a corporation the size of Google, this is hardly expensive. If Google finds it right, it can even withdraw from Russia altogether, leaving the thousands of Internet users without the service. But Google won’t necessarily want to do that, given the size of Russia and the number of users they get from the region.
Individuals in Russia cannot post any information or links related to VPNs and anonymous tools online. If found guilty, a penalty of 3,000 to 5,000 rubles will be charged on each person, which is approximately $42 to $80. If you try to promote the use of VPNs or other anonymous tools in your company, you can be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles, which is around $480 to $800.
The bill states that VPN services and hosting providers can continue to function in Russia and avoid the ban list if they agree to leak user data to Russian authorities. If the service refuses to do so, a penalty of 50,000 to 300,000 rubles ($800 to $4,850) will be imposed.
That’s not all. If you are an individual living in Russia or any other country and you let people in Russia use your own VPN network, you can be charged with a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($160 to $480).
What Next for Russian Internet Users?
This isn’t the first time that the Russian government has tried to take away Internet freedom. Earlier attempts have been unsuccessful and Russians have always found some way around to access free and unrestricted Internet.
A while ago, when the encrypted messaging service Telegram was blocked, the use of VPNs rose around the country. Now with VPNs also being banned and users penalized, tech experts are sure to come up with some other way to get unfettered access to the Internet.