A law that began with the noblest of intentions—to make the Internet a safe place for kids—has the potential to curb free speech in Russia. In July, Vladimir Putin signed the amended Act for Information, which took effect in October, giving the Russian government free rein to blacklist and shut down websites it deems harmful, without any due process.
What are the limits of this law? How is “harmful to children” defined? Critics are raising these questions, seeing the law as a move by Putin to exercise greater control over the population.
“Of course there are websites that should not be accessible to children, but I don’t think it will be limited to that,” Yuri Vdovin, vice president of Citizens’ Watch, a human rights organization based in Saint Petersburg, told the BBC.
“The government will start closing other sites—any democracy-oriented sites are at risk of being taken offline,” says Vdovin. “It will be [an attack on] the freedom of speech on the Internet.”