Russia’s new laws, approved earlier this year, are coming into effect in several instalments starting on 1 October. The laws have become infamous for strict rules regarding VPNs, or internet proxy services, that allow people to surf the web anonymously and access websites banned by internet providers. Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming changes.

From 1 October 2017

All proxies and “mirrors” of websites already banned for piracy are going to be blocked much faster and without a court decision, and search engines will be banned from advertising such websites.

From 1 November 2017

The VPN service that you are using might be blocked. The new legislation requires all VPN providers to register with the Russian registry of blocked websites and then restrict access to all banned websites for all users from Russia. The VPN services that refuse to follow the rules will be blocked. Berlin-based VPN service ZenMate has published a statement in Russian in preparation for the bans, saying that the company “can’t comply with the requirements of the local censorship committees if it goes against the company principles”. The statement also says that the company is ready for the attempts to block their services, and that Russian subscribers will still be able to use their services as usual.

Search engines will also be required to stop displaying links to banned websites in search results that are shown to Russian users.

From 1 January 2018

Messaging apps will be required to authorise users by their phone number. This is tantamount to people logging into messengers with their passport details as you are required to show an ID when buying a sim card in Russia. It is unclear whether using a foreign mobile number (purchased, for example, on holiday in another country) will be a loophole.

Messengers will also be asked to block messages and ban people if they distribute illegal information (for example extremist information, a concept that has been criticised for its loose definition, leaving it open to being used as a political tool to stifle dissent).

From 1 June 2018

Your chat, telephone and text message logs will be stored by service providers (mobile and internet networks) for up to three years, depending on the type of information. It has already been predicted that the service providers are likely to raise their prices as the costs of storing the information is very high.

Messengers that use encryption will also be required to decrypt the messages if asked by special services. 

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