Domestic internet and Data

Russia has recently tested a country wide alternative to the global internet. According to the test , users did not notice any changes. The country announced its plan to temporarily disconnect its internet as a part of its experiment of testing its cyber defence capabilities. President Putin signed a law to set into motion RuNet which aimed to re-route internet traffic in such a way that no traffic is routed outside the country which could make it vulnerable to interception.

The law which is called the Digital economy national program, requires Russia’s ISPs to ensure it can operate in the event of a foreign power working to cut off the country online. While the goal of the legislation is to protect Russia’s internet, many experts are of the view that it’s a step to duplicate the ‘Great firewall of China’ to restrict user access to content deemed inappropriate by the state. Russia has already blocked webpages run by opposition figures. While the law is currently focused on the domestic market, tit has the potential to affect tech giants like Facebook and Google as these companies could be asked to shift data to Russian servers.

Censorship and control

It is not the first time Russia has imposed censorship and has previously fought against usage of HTTPs, has blocked Wikipedia and has told officials not to use WhatsApp and Google. The recent push can be seen as an attempt to control what its citizens see and do online. It further threatens the privacy of Russian citizens as it removes the element of control over personal data. It also violates the fact that no one owns the Internet nor should they be able to control the users’ personal data.

Emulating China

China is the world’s largest censor and controls topics considered sensitive to the Chinese Government. For example it is difficult to find anything about the Tiananmen massacre. According to studies, there are around 18000 blocked websites in China. The ban has been extended to sites like Instagram, Gmail, Facebook, Reuters, Wall Street Journal and many more, which clearly showcases the routine censorship being done.
China is also increasing assault on the Virtual private networks (VPNs) which is the only way to connect to a private network. If you are in China and look to connect to a website in the UK, a VPN can help you access it. China in 2018 passed a law banning the use of VPNs and also passed an order to remove all non-approved VPNs from the App Store.

Unplugging the global internet

The internet is a series of digital networks which are connected by router points which is the weakest link in the chain. What Russia wants to do is bring the router points in control and to decide whether to censor information or not if its viewed as a potential threat. China’s firewall is known to be best censorship tool as its polices its router to block websites and redirects web traffic so computers cannot connect to a site which the state does not want to grant access to.

Question for UPSC Mains:
What is the purpose of ‘domestic internet’ and how does a country unplug itself from the internet ?

Published: December 30, 2019 | Modified:October 15, 2020

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