Russia is one of the primary sources of child pornography in the world. This trade goes on with very little effort by the government to stop it, and I’m probably being kind by saying “very little.” (Keep that in mind whenever you hear the incensed Russian claims of sexual abuse of adoptees by Americans.) Knowing that, my immediate reaction to the announcement that it would be cracking down on websites that hosted or linked to child pornography (or drug-related information, or discussions of suicide, among other things deemed dangerous to Russian youth) was that this was just a pretext to crack down on political opposition websites.
On Friday, a freedom of speech activist group reported that the Russian government has blocked access to a prominent blog-hosting service that carries many dissident voices from within the countries.
Back in the fall, the Kremlin put into place a much-derided-from-the-West “Internet blacklist.” When it was launched in November, Moscow blocked access to over 180 sites that it deemed were offensive to Russian interests. In particular, this blacklist was meant as a way to protect minors from pornography sites, sexual abuse sites, and sites that provide details about drug use and suicide.
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LJRossia.org, “a non-profit project created to support freedom of speech, civil society, and encourage the free exchange of ideas,” is reportedly used by Russian journalists who openly speak out against the Putin government, including Andrei Malgin and Vladimir Pribylovsky. The site “has been targeted for publishing a large database of government misdeeds and for disclosing official documents that expose corruption,” according to the American non-profit group, Access.
Access wrote Friday that the entire site has been blocked on at least one Russian ISP, RosTelekom, supposedly over alleged publication of child pornography (Google Translate).
The Russian police and security services are notorious for planting drugs on political opponents and others they want to frame. Given that history, and the fact that the Russians have a very active cyberwarfare operation, I would bet dimes to donuts that they have and will plant incriminating material on servers to provide a justification for shutting down opposition sites. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happened here.
I am sure there will be much more of this to come. Putin and the siloviki are engaged in a python strategy of gradually strangling the opposition. It is taking it off the streets. A group that remembers the subversive power of copy machines and faxes (samizdat) certainly understands the far greater subversive power of the Internet. In their utter cynicism, they will exploit the natural revulsion against child pornography to control political content on the Internet.
PSA update: If you have Kaspersky software, you are an idiot. Kaspersky very tight with FSB. That is all.