Monday, June 5, 2023

Russia’s inability to limit Twitter is not a sign of weakness

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Like thousands of Russian citizens in more than 100 cities have mobilized to support opposition leader Alexey Navalny and to protest against pervasive corruption. arrest and police brutality[…]the Kremlin verdict was clear: Internet companies must support the government’s crackdown.

In January, days before the protests even began, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet and media regulator, ordered TikTok, YouTube and other foreign tech platforms, as well as VKontakte. and other Russian social media platforms, to remove information about the protests. These censorship demands have been met worrying levels of compliance foreign companies. After Roskomnadzor also dispatched a vaguely worded request to Telegram to stop the dissemination of personal data, Pavel Durov, CEO of Telegram ad the app had blocked the channels in which members shared the phone numbers and addresses of everyone, from journalists to “judges, prosecutors, [and] law enforcement agents ”(the latter, without a doubt, the only source of concern for the Kremlin). Roskomnadzor too fined Instagram, Facebook and other companies whose responses to inquiries were still clearly unsatisfactory for the regime.

Then, last Wednesday, Moscow apparently decided that he had had enough and directed the internet regulator for Throttle (slow access to) Twitter. This decision backfired, as other websites, including those of several Russian and American companies, the Kremlin and both houses of the Russian parliament have become inaccessible. The episode highlighted the weaknesses of technical internet censorship in Moscow, but it was also a telling illustration of Russia’s control of the internet – and why the Kremlin relies heavily on legal and physical coercion. , and not just on digital filtering, to consolidate its hold.

When the website outage surfaced, an official from the Department of Digital Development first mentionned it arose from network equipment problems at Rostelecom, the state-owned telecommunications giant; some deputies absurdly thrown The US cyberattacks are the root cause. It soon became clear that this was likely a product of the planned limitation of Twitter.

The Kremlin tried to explain the maneuver by affirming it was request Twitter to remove content allegedly related to child pornography, suicide and drug use for years, and which Twitter has not complied. But weeks of events leading up to the strangulation attempt – coupled with the authorities’ systematic use of bad faith and propaganda arguments to justify Internet control – paint a different picture. Roskomnadzor sent censorship orders for content related to the Navalny protests; he then fined Twitter for not removing that content; then at the end of February, he dispatched a letter asking Twitter to explain why deleted Russian state information operations accounts. Add Twitter’s refusal to locate its data in Russia and the Kremlin to the pile had many reasons to perform what he probably considered retribution.

The inability of the authorities to cleanly and quickly block access to Twitter shows the weaknesses of the Russian state’s technical censorship capabilities. Telegram is the most notorious example: the internet regulator was clearly unable to run a 2018 legal ban in code. Initial attempts to filter data destined for Telegram inadvertently caused several other websites and services to crash, and after two years of back and forth, with Telegram widely accessible all the time, the Kremlin survey the ban in June 2020.

But just because it doesn’t crack down on Telegram or Twitter doesn’t mean the Russian state isn’t restricting the web. People tend to think of the Chinese government when it comes to controlling the Internet, and for good reason. But many other countries have different internet control regimes than Beijing, and Russia is squarely on that side. The Kremlin employs technical measures, yes, like the SORM-3 internet monitoring system or his 2014 requirement for companies with data on Russian citizens to store the data locally, within Russia’s borders (reflecting both the paranoia of the security services and a desire for broader surveillance). It also occasionally uses throttling and filtering technologies, but with a relatively dismal success rate.


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