With Russian TV networks under government control and most newspapers and radio stations under tight Kremlin screws, the internet was supposed to be Russia's last bastion of free speech. But late last week, it became clear that the Kremlin might have other plans for it.
Last Friday, February 22, site administrators at the popular muckraking news aggregate site compromat.ru learned that their site was being blocked by about a half dozen Russian internet providers. The companies (which include big Russian telecom names like Rostelecom, MegaFon, Skylink and Transtelecom, among others) didn't notify their clients about the blockage. Instead, they used a common firewall technique known as a "black hole"in which requests to access a site's IP addresses are silently dropped, making it look like some sort of weird computer connection glitch.
|Compromat.ru screen shot. Click to enlrage.
It's not clear how long the block on compromat.ru has been going on, but judging by the fact that I couldn't access the site from my old Rostelecom-wired apartment more than a year ago, the answer might be quite a while.
Transtelecom canceled the filtration as soon as compromat.ru filed an official complaint and leaked information about the block to the press. As of February 27, the remaining providers have not resumed access.
Compromat.ru has not totally been blocked from Russian internet users and can still be accessed through the dozens of other Russian internet providers, including the one I'm on now. So why have these companies in particular blocked access?
|Reiman: Big Brother's Little Helper
It doesn't come as a surprise to learn that they're all in some way connected to the government. Russia's state-owned railway company Russian Railroads owns a controlling stake in Transtelecom, while the state-owned telecommunications holding company Svyazinvest has a majority take in Rostelecom. Both Skylink and MegaFon are connected to the IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, who also happens to be the Svyazinvest's Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Is Russia toying around with a version of China's internet censorship? Probably. According to Transtelecom, the block was a result of the company "testing content filters." Apparently they work.