Russian Internet Bills Revive Soviet-Era Censorship Concerns

People tend to think that anything goes on the Internet. But is that true everywhere? Perhaps not. Indeed, according to a recent New York Times article, a series of controversial Russian Internet bills, approved last week by Parliament, seeks to strengthen the government’s Internet controls.

The Russian Parliament’s approval of the bills reportedly follows the Russian government’s imposition of fines relating to unsanctioned protests and the reinstitution of criminal charges for slander.

The Russian Internet bills, approved by both the upper and lower houses of Parliament, would give the Russian government the ability to block websites that it deems inappropriate for children.

The bills would also force nonprofits to list themselves as foreign agents, to the extent any of their financing comes from beyond Russia’s borders and they are deemed to be involved in political efforts.

The tightening of Internet controls, the criminalization of slander, and the foreign-agent categorization are causing public complaints in some quarters, and have many worried that Russia is reverting to Soviet-era practices.

Freedom of speech and assembly are hallmarks of democracy. The Internet provides an easy means to communicate broadly. While some nations may support such freedoms and means of communication, that is not universally true. As the Russian Internet bills seem to show, the converse can be the case in certain instances, if freedom of communication is considered threatening to a particular regime.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP ( where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is and he can be reached at To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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