At the National Education Youth Forum held Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin told young IT professionals that he favored only “minimal” Internet restrictions for Russian citizens, bucking a worldwide trend that sees western nations increasingly trying to restrict the online activities of their citizens.
However, he further stated that he expects Russian citizens to respond to any “hostile” online publications with a forceful promotion of Moscow’s views and policies. Opponents of Putin’s Internet restrictions argue that said measures have the potential to chill speech on the Internet, could restrict the free flow of online information and access to information, could damage the universality of the Internet and eventually allow private entities to restrict content.
At the Forum, Putin also promised to consider delaying the implementation of a Russian law requiring online companies to store Russian users’ data in Russia. The law, which as of now will become effective on September 1st, is vehemently opposed by certain Internet freedom proponents. These supporters of Internet freedom argue that the law is only one part of Putin’s more expansive goal to tighten control over Internet communications.
In discussing his policies, Putin reiterated that Internet restrictions should be minimal but that people, especially young people, must be protected from detrimental or hostile influences. On one hand he states that Russian citizens should not be prohibited or forbidden from reading, viewing or listening to something on the Internet, but on the other hand, citizens should be prepared to receive any type of information and be able to respond in a “harsh, timely, beautiful and talented manner” regarding and supporting Russian views.
In addition to the Russian user data storage law, another law signed by Putin this week will require search engines to delete the personal information of Internet users upon request if the personal information is “in violation of Russian Federation law, is false or outdated.” This “right to be forgotten” law contains no criteria for evaluating the veracity of the disputed information but rather that users can seek the assistance of Russian courts if search engines deny their requests to remove their information.
Opponents of the right to be forgotten law claim it is arbitrary and will allow Russian politicians the ability to prevent the public from learning about their past actions or lies.
In response to the criticism of the restriction laws, Putin countered that Russia’s Internet restrictions are similar to those being implemented by Germany and Great Britain. However, many activists denounce Putin’s claim and argue that unlike those countries, Russia can simply pass any law it chooses and will continue to expand its already tight restrictions on its citizens’ access to the Internet.