Russian Internet legislation has been the subject of great concern among free expression advocates, policymakers, and average Internet users. RuNet Echo has reported extensively on some of the new laws regulating online business and communications that have already come into force or will do so in the nearest future. The blogger law, the law against online extremism, the data localization law, the “right to be forgotten” law—the list goes on and on.
On the surface, these laws look bad: they limit free expression, ask users to reveal personal information, and restrict the spaces where Internet companies can store user data. But some experts have also called the laws sloppy and full of loopholes, while others have claimed that, in some cases, the laws’ demands are simply impossible to fulfil.
Russia’s Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev has repeatedly criticized the data localization law, while Yandex, the country’s largest search engine company, has called the “right to be forgotten” law “unconstitutional.” On August 1, the first year anniversary of the blogger law, Russia’s communications watchdog Roscomnadzor reported that the popular blogger registry (which was meant to take stock of all blogs and social media pages with over three thousand daily views) had accumulated only 640 entries.
But how much does the online community actually know about these “draconian” measures? A recent survey of online industry experts in Russia, conducted by the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC), showed that many Internet experts have never even heard about some of the new laws. Only one out of six Internet professionals in Russia reads the texts of the laws in full, RAEC’s survey found. “I’m not surprized that people aren’t rushing to gain in-depth knowledge of Internet regulation,” Karen Kazaryan, an analyst with RAEC, told RBC news agency. “A significant part of our Internet industry tries to exist as if the laws don’t apply to them.”
RAEC, a non-government association that unites over a hundred Internet and telecommunications companies working in Russia, published the results of the survey as part of its annual “Internet in Russia” report. According to the survey results, industry experts knew the least about the law limiting online payments: 10.7 percent were not aware the law even existed. The law on extremism (frequently applied to online content) rang a bell, but only just: 51.8 percent of the experts have never read the actual text, either fully, or in part. The experts polled by RAEC seemed most concerned with the data localization law, with 28.5 percent of the experts having read it in its entirety.
While the laws are certainly problematic and require continued pressure from human rights and consumer rights groups, as well as pushback from the industry, it remains to be seen how much longer the online professionals and corporate experts in Russia can afford to ignore the regulations. Given their business interests, and Russia’s desire to improve the economy, it’s probably safe to say Internet businesses have more sway then regular Internet users, who are, at the moment, virtually unprotected from any legal repercussions of what they choose to do online.
By Tetyana Lokot, Global Voices