The digital state of Russia
On 17 April 2013, Pavel Durov, founder of Vkontakte and CEO of Russia’s biggest social network, was arrested in St. Petersburg. The police said they were investigating a traffic incident where a policeman had become injured by a driver on the road and Mr. Durov was now under suspicion. Although the case is still under investigation, it does not come as a suprise that yet another highly profiled Russian media owner is arrested. Durov joins a long line of previously arrested individuals in a case that surprises only a few.
Also political blogger and activist Aleksei Navalny went through trial for ‘embezzling money from a state timber company’, as NYT journalist Bill Keller writes.
Vkontakte is one of the most popular social media platforms in Russia with its users’ reach extending over 200 million users. Under the influence of the Internet traditional fronts of street marches and peaceful demonstrations have taken a different coat in the digital spheres, a space that allows for individuals to freely debate. And yet in Russia expressing your ideas and hitting a key button can mean a one-way ticket to imprisonment.
We can softly say that the digital state of Russia’s Internet is in despair. On the surface, digital interaction seems innocent and only aimed at protecting the country from hideous child molesters, but behind the veil we see a darker picture. It is a situation where the Kremlin has gained legal power over what it calls protecting citizens by creating so-called “banned sites”. In so doing, the state has established a dubious relationship where the citizen is free to express its thoughts, but under the watching of Big Brother Russia. The state draws the line, but only after you have crossed it.
It is not a surprise that under the umbrella of providing protection to Russian citizens also the Internet has become part of a large scale surveillance operation. As new media technologies are becoming more advanced and individuals like Mr. Durov, also known as Mr. Zuckerberg, manage to build new digital empires, the Kremlin tightens its grip on their activities. Putins’ eyes are watching you, especially when you press Enter.
In fact, the Russian surveillance system includes so-called digital inspection tools, which not only allow providers to monitor traffic but also to filter Internet traffic in quite effective ways.