Russia: The Head of Roskomnadzor intends to continue to destroy the Runet

The head of Roskomnadzor, which has been severely damaging the Runet especially with its recent Telegram ban, has spoken after a period of silence. Alexander Zharov was silent for almost the whole period of intensive “carpet bombing” of IP addresses, but now has finally begun to give some comments — and they do not inspire optimism.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Forum, the head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov finally broke his nearly month-long period of silence, making several statements that greatly surprised the internet community with their pretentiousness and detachment from reality. In particular, Zharov quite optimistically evaluated the work of his agency and the results of “carpet bombing of IP-addresses”, because of which, let us recall, the proper functioning of the Runet has been broken. There was no recognition of the erroneousness of the chosen method of “chasing Telegram”; on the contrary, Zharov considered Roskomnadzor’s actions justified.

The Roskomnadzor assures us that the “degradation” of the messenger “was within a day from 15% to 35-40% on various smartphones.” The decrease of advertising and users, according to Zharov, reaches 25%. Earlier, the company M13, the creator of the Katushya information and analysis system, which is used by the presidential administration to monitor social networks and the internet, did not observe any “degradation” of Telegram.

Let us recall also the data of the Telegram Analytics service, a month after Roskomnadzor’s ban was initiated by the Tagansky District Court of Moscow. According to their data the loss for the popular Telegram messenger turned out to be incommensurably small compared to the efforts of the supervisory agency, which in fact led to significant disruptions in the functioning of the Runet. The real decline of Telegram activity in Russia was approximately 2%.

In addition, Alexander Zharov assured us that major internet companies have ceased to help Telegram bypass the block. “We are continuing dialogue. Microsoft stopped allowing Telegram to use the configuration file of the Microsoft Download service; Google informed us that the provision of IP addresses to Telegram has been suspended. That is, the process is ongoing,” Zharov said.

It should be noted that Alexander Zharov has long been in the habit of making such statements, which do not necessarily correspond to reality. After a while the head of Roskomnadzor will word-for-word reiterate what he said earlier about his agency being “in dialogue” with this or that company that “is about to transfer its servers to Russia,” or “build data centers,” “agree to ban Telegram,” etc.

According to Zharov, the blocking of Telegram is “our first experience of blocking not a site, but an application,” and “this is a process,” and “interaction with international companies is also a process,” and Roskomnadzor is in “constant contact” with them.

The subject of the Telegram messenger created by Pavel Durov has been the theme of several recent speeches by the head of Roskomnadzor Alexander Zhurov. On May 25, he affirmed the legitimacy of the requirement for Telegram to provide encryption keys from user correspondences. The official called the messenger’s philosophy “absolutely illegal,” as it contains a lot of illegal and extremist content. He added that there is incontrovertible evidence, but did not disclose any in particular. Also, he did not specified which time period is involved.

“All the recent terrorist acts that occurred in our country and abroad were coordinated through the Telegram messenger. Therefore, if I have to choose between comfort and security, I personally choose security,” the head of the Roskomnadzor said.

However, neither Zharov himself nor the agency he directs guarantee the security of internet resources. On the contrary, they make an “invaluable contribution” to the process of disrupting the work of thousands of websites whose owners suffer reputational and material losses, and the lives of millions of Russian citizens who experience great inconvenience, sharply plunging from the modern era in the pre-digital era, in which messengers, online cards, ticket sales services, cash desks, encyclopedias, teaching aids and other important services in our time are not working.

According to Zharov, the founder of Telegram Pavel Durov is a pirate. The piracy, in his opinion, is every attempt to bypass the Telegram block. Telegram, says Zharov, hides behind the live shield of bona fide internet resources, with which it is hosted on some IP addresses: “Unfortunately, at present the application, thanks to the actions of its programmers, seems to be hiding behind a human shield consisting of transnational companies and respectable resources, with which it is hosted on the same IP addresses.”

Zharov also went after Vkontakte for piracy: “Unfortunately, the philosophy of the creators of Telegram, as well as the creators of the VKontakte network, is in the zone of absolute piracy.” But he also added that the situation with the Vkontakte social network has changed in a positive direction, and mentioned how steps were taken to legalize music and video under the direction of the MailRu Group.

Arguing for the fight against piracy, Zharov assures us that it contributed to the growth of the legal online video market. He cited the data of TMT Consulting, according to which the Russian online cinema market grew by 60% in 2017, to 7.7 billion rubles, and the paying audience grew by 30% to 2.6 million users.

Over the past year (April 2017 – April 2018) Roskomnadzor received more than 1,600 definitions from the Moscow City Court on the adoption of response measures to deal with 4,000 internet resources that violate the law in the field of protection of exclusive rights. Access to 380 sites was limited, while the rest of the pirated content was removed. More than 900 pirated internet resources are blocked on an ongoing basis.

As noted by A. Zharov, the cross-border nature of violations of intellectual property rights in the digital sphere dictates the need for close international cooperation between rights holders, internet companies, and regulators. At the same time, Roskomnadzor “considers first and foremost the support and development of Russian markets.”

Zharov’s agency is unrelenting in its attempts to block Telegram with many proposals, first undertaken at the dawn of the IP-address “carpet bombing.” “Roskomnadzor is engaging in dialogue with lawyers from Google and Apple on the removal or restriction of access to the Telegram application in the online stores of the companies,” the head of the department said.

According to him, the lawyers of Roskomnadzor and companies “interpret the third point of the court’s decision in different ways. The third point says that Roskomnadzor and other legal persons should restrict access to the application.” Zharov specified that Google and Apple do not want to recognize themselves as “other legal persons.”

“They want a direct demand to companies,” explained Zharov.

Alexander Zharov also returned to his favorite topic – his promises to check Facebook for the implementation of Russian laws (in particular, 242-FZ on the transfer of personal data of Russians to the territory of the Russian Federation). So far, he said, the idea of blocking the social network is not worth it.

“Depending on the results of the inspection, we can fine them, or obtain legally significant documents from them when they intend to comply with the laws of the Russian Federation. This process will start at the end of this year,” Zharov said.

Zharov noted that today the “hot topic” is the dissemination of unreliable information on social networks. “False information is literally a scourge. There should be accountability for fake news, but the matter of exactly how requires discussion. Most often this information is distributed on social networks with encrypted traffic.”

He noted that it is impossible to block only one Facebook account, because of the peculiarities of the platform’s architecture, the whole social network would have to be blocked. “Therefore, we need to discuss other means of punishment — perhaps financial ones,” Zharov added.

In April, the State Duma passed in the first reading a bill imposing a fine of up to 50 million rubles for refusing to remove inaccurate and defamatory information in social networks. The bill also equates the social network with “organizers of information dissemination” and presumes rather serious sanctions in case of its non-fulfillment. The document imposes a number of duties on the owners of social networks, such as the creation of a representative office in the territory of the Russian Federation, the removal upon demand of inaccurate information described in the bill, the observance of relevant prohibitions and restrictions during elections or referendums, and the establishment of a program for counting certain users indicated by Roskomnadzor, and so on and so forth.

Alexander Zharov, as we see, does not intend to offer any apologies for the clumsiness of his agency, although it is not only inevitable mistakes that can be seen in the work of Roskomnadzor, but also obvious abuses of authority and violations of Russian legislation. Let us recall how the internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev said that the Prosecutor General’s Office should verify the legality of Roskomnadzor’s actions. Also, an entrepreneur who was harmed by the “IP bombing” sued Roskomnadzor for 5 million rubles, although the case has been left without a motion until June 7. The human rights organization Agora announced the preparation of a number of lawsuits, and in addition RosKomSvoboda appealed to business and ordinary users with a proposal to complain about the actions of Roskomnadzor to the relevant bodies. The blocking of the messenger itself has been combated by RosKomSvoboda and Agora, the latter having filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which was registered less than two weeks ago.

Translated from RosKomSvoboda (