Russia’s sovereign internet law comes into force

The Russian government calls it the “sovereign and from 1 November it compels the country’s ISPs to forward all data arriving and departing from their networks through special gateway servers.

Promoted since 2018, from the government’s point of view the sovereign internet is a way of protecting the country from the bad stuff the internet or other countries might throw at it.

To its critics, Runet, as it’s also known, is a straight power grab by a government obsessed with the idea of control, surveillance and censorship of its population.

If this sounds a bit like China’s infamous Great Firewall, senior Russian politicians downplay the comparison. Said Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev earlier this year:

Certainly, we won’t have Chinese-style regulations. No firewall will emerge here.

On the contrary, he said, Runet was more about pushing back against the historic regulation of the internet by one country, the US, which had the power to threaten the integrity of Russia’s internet infrastructure.

DPI paranoia

At face value, it seems the government’s solution in Runet is to build a sort of parallel national internet, which is connected to global networks but can be disconnected from it if the government decides that’s necessary.

It sounds like an intranet of the sort Iran once proposed a separate network with connections to the outside world – but its design is closer to that of a giant proxy through which traffic can be made to pass some of the time.

The simplest element of this will be deep packet inspection (DPI), a technology already universally used by ISPs across the world to prioritise traffic, block unwanted protocols, and prioritise specific applications.

But unlike conventional quality of service DPI, this won’t be controlled by ISPs, which will pass traffic to servers in the same racks controlled by communications regulator Roskomnadzor to do Runet’s heavy lifting.

Arguably, this is similar to the Great Firewall because its design sets up government-controlled servers as gateways capable of blocking traffic to applications, websites, and keywords the authorities want to stop citizens from accessing.


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