VPN services blocking stands idle in Russia

VPN services blocking stands idle in Russia
Photo: RBC

The law on limitations and restrictions of anonymizers and VPN services, which obliges them to block websites banned in Russia, has been in force for three months already. However, not a single service has performed it yet.

According to RBC’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) spokesman, the agency has not sent any order to VPN service or anonymizer to block users access to sites that are listed in the register of banned information.

The provisions of the law, according to which services for interlock bypass, including VPN and anonymizers, are obliged to restrict access to sites banned in Russia, entered into force on November 1, 2017. However, the Federal Security Service (FSB) or another body that carries out operational search activities and ensures the security of Russia chooses which service should obey the law. On the initiative of law enforcement agencies, Roskomnadzor should send a request to anonymizers to join the federal state information system (FGIS), which contains information on prohibited sites, and block access to these resources. If the anonymizer does not join FGIS within 30 days after the receipt of the request from Roskomnadzor, it will be blocked.

"As of today, there have been no requests from investigators and state security regarding anonymizers and VPN services," a Roskomnadzor spokesman tells RBC.

Schrödinger's law

At the stage of its adoption, experts told that the law would not work. "Roskomnadzor does not have leverage on most VPN services, and they can not block them for failing to comply with the law, because Roskomnadzor does not have technical solutions for this, and the law does not have relevant by-laws. It's very expensive to copy the Chinese model of VPN control," says analyst of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) Karen Ghazaryan. In his opinion, about a quarter of Internet users in Russia use VPN-services and anonymizers, and their number is constantly growing.

Only a few anonymizers of Russian origin, such as 2ip and Chameleon, publicly announce their readiness to implement this law, while representatives of most foreign services state that they will not comply with the requirements of Russian legislation, and continue to adhere to this position. "As a company focused on protecting the confidentiality and freedom of information on the Internet, we will continue to support users, regardless of where they are located," the representative of the American VPN service ExpressVPN tells RBC.

A representative of another foreign service PrivateVPN says that as the company is not present in Russia, the country's laws do not apply to it. The company has a server in Russia, but it is ready to give it up if someone forces to do it. "We have always supported freedom of speech and the right to free access to information, privacy on the Internet, and we condemn any actions aimed at limiting these rights in Russia and any other country," says a CactusVPN service representative.


Another feature, due to which the application of the provisions of the law may be difficult, is the massive use of VPN technology in corporate networks. So, Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev earlier called the adopted bill "insanity" and doubted the possibility of its implementation due to the impossibility to distinguish which VPNs are operating for commercial purposes, and which ones - to bypass Internet blockings.

The Association of European Businesses (AEB), which includes Air France, Citibank, Volvo Cars, Deutsche Bank, Nokia and several hundred other European companies, expresses concern at the end of October 2017 as many companies use VPN in corporate networks.

According to lawyer of the Roskomvoboda project Sarkis Darbinyan, Roskomnadzor has not yet prepared by-laws which distinguishes the personal and corporate VPN-services. "The law states that it does not apply to corporate VPN networks, but there is no way to distinguish them from services used for personal needs. It is possible that the first blockings will affect the commercial and banking sectors," Darbinyan says.



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