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Belarus: Browsing Foreign Websites a Misdemeanor

(Dec. 30, 2011) On December 21, 2011, the governmental portal dedicated to official publication of laws and other legal acts issued in the Republic of Belarus published Law No. 317-3 of November 25, 2011, on Amendments to the Code of Administrative Violations and the Procedural Code of the Republic of Belarus. (National Law Internet Portal [in Russian] (last visited Dec. 27, 2011).)

As stated in an explanatory note published together with the Law, this act was issued to implement the Decree of the Belarusian President of February 1, 2010, on Improvements to the Usage of the National Segment of the Internet. The newly published Law imposes restrictions on visiting and/or using foreign websites by Belarusian citizens and residents. Under this new Law, the violation of these rules is recognized as a misdemeanor and is punished by fines of varied amounts, up to the equivalent of US$125. (Id.)

The Law requires that all companies and individuals who are registered as entrepreneurs in Belarus use only domestic Internet domains for providing online services, conducting sales, or exchanging email messages. It appears that business requests from Belarus cannot be served over the Internet if the service provider is using online services located outside of the country. The tax authorities, together with the police and secret police, are authorized to initiate, investigate, and prosecute such violations. (Id.)

Additionally, the Law states that the owners and administrators of Internet caf├ęs or other places that offer access to the Internet might be found guilty of violating this Law and fined and their businesses might be closed if users of Internet services provided by these places are found visiting websites located outside of Belarus and if such behavior of the clients was not properly identified, recorded, and reported to the authorities. The Law states that this provision may apply to private individuals if they allow other persons to use their home computers for browsing the Internet. (Id.)

Also, the Law authorizes the government to establish and update the list of banned websites to which access should be blocked by Internet providers. The Law mentions pornographic websites and those that contain information of an extremist nature as examples of those to be blocked. The Law will enter into force on January 6, 2012. (Id.) Commentators believe that these measures will lead to outside websites blocking access from Belarus. For example, suppose someone in Belarus buys something from Amazon, which is not a Belarusian company and thus is not registered in Belarus. The transaction is illegal, and so the Belarusian Attorney General would send a note to Amazon informing it that it is violating national law and might be sued. Probably Amazon would close access to its website for visitors from Belarus, because such visitors comprise a minor share of the company's customers but the resultant legal troubles caused by the Belarusian government might create a major problem. (Restrictions on BYnet: Amendments to Law Are Adopted, INTERFAX NEWS AGENCY (Nov. 8, 2011).)