(Feb. 22, 2021) On December 30, 2020, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 482-FZ on Amendments to the Federal Law on Enforcement Actions Regarding Persons Involved in Violations of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and the Rights and Freedoms of the Russian Federation Citizens. The law became effective on January 10, 2021.
Under the new law, the owner of an internet-based information resource can be charged with a media law violation if the internet resource somehow restricts the distribution of content from Russian state media outlets. (Federal Law No. 482-FZ, art. 1.)
Furthermore, the law now allows the state regulator, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), to block an offending digital platform either partly or in full for “discrimination against the content of Russian mass media.” (Art. 3.)
The law targets the owners of the internet resources, including foreign ones, that restrict “the distribution of socially significant information within the territory of the Russian Federation on the basis of nationality, language, origin, property or official status, profession, place of residence and work, attitude toward religion and/or in connection with the introduction of political or economic sanctions against Russia or its citizens by foreign states.” (Art. 2.)
The law also applies to the content of social networks and to registered and unregistered online media, such as blogs.
Since April 2020, authorized bodies of the Russian Federation started recording complaints from Russian state-owned media that foreign internet portals Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were censoring their accounts.
On November 19, 2020, Roskomnadzor published a letter claiming that “Russian law cannot and should not be supplanted in the territory of the [Russian Federation] by the rules of internet companies.”
Russian officials have labeled as “censorship” the practice of limiting the use of materials from state-owned media, stating that these actions constitute attempts by major internet portals to infringe on the interests of Russian users and must be countered.
The draft law was introduced in the State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian legislature) on the same day the Roskomnadzor letter was published, and the chairman of the Information Policy Committee, Aleksandr Khinshtein, one of the coauthors of the initiative, stated that “non-Russian online outlets have treated Russia unfairly.”
The explanatory note attached to the draft law said that “the urgency in adopting the draft law is due to numerous cases of unjustified restriction of Russian citizens’ access to information in the Russian media by certain internet resources, including those registered outside Russia,” and insisted that providing “a mechanism to counter the perceived discrimination of Russian content” was essential.
Content of the Law
The law stipulates the legal procedure through which content published on the internet can be blocked or its traffic can be throttled. It prescribes that the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, in agreement with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can identify the owner of an information resource that has limited on the grounds provided in article 2 people’s access to information deemed “publicly important” and has violated rights and freedoms and/or discriminated against official Russian media. The Prosecutor General’s Office must then send the ruling to Roskomnadzor for execution. (Art. 2.)
According to the law, Roskomnadzor is to begin the procedure by listing the resource in a specially created registry published on its official website. It must within one day send a warning to the respondent and request that the violation be rectified within the period specified in the warning. If the violation is not addressed, Roskomnadzor must then block the resource fully or partially. (Art. 4.)
Article 5 of the law prescribes that, if the demands of Roskomnadzor are not met, the agency can fully or partially restrict access to the media platforms of the “violator” by employing technical means based on Federal Law on Communications No. 126-FZ of July 7, 2003. (Federal Law No. 482-FZ, art. 46, para. 5.)
However, if the foreign media platform takes actions and complies with the claim in a manner deemed satisfactory by Roskomnadzor, the latter must notify the attorney general and ask for the cancellation on the measures. (Art. 7.) The sanctions are to be lifted within one day after the decision is made, and proper notification must be sent to Roskomnadzor. (Arts. 7 & 10.)
The Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (upper chamber of the legislature) is continuing to debate issues of internet regulation. Alexei Pushkov, the chair of the Federation Council’s Interim Commission on Information Policy and Cooperation with the Media, has stated that “[f]or Russia, regulating internet companies and developing local social networks and internet platforms is an important and necessary part of ensuring national digital sovereignty.”