Russia introduces new grounds for blocking websites and social networks

26 January 2021

On January 10, 2021, the Federal law N 482-FZ came in force granting Roskomnadzor, the federal oversight service for communications, IT, and mass media, the right to block Internet resources premised upon improper censorship and/or on grounds of discrimination against Russian users or mass media. A source is considered discriminatory if, for instance, it violates the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens to freely seek, receive, transfer, produce, or distribute information in any legal way or censors the content of Russian media.

The provisions of the law apply only to sources that are targeted at or used by Russian citizens or Russian legal entities and if such sources distribute information in the Russian language or in languages of RF constituent republics or nations.

As an example of discriminatory behavior, the explanatory note to the draft law referred to the acts of censorship of content of Russia Today, RIA Novosti, and Crimea 24 which were reportedly conducted by well-known social media platforms.

Sanctions under the new law can be imposed as a result of restrictions applied by the owners of online resources, provided that they are found responsible for violating the rights of Russian citizens to freely seek, receive, transfer, produce, or distribute information in any legal way. For example, the law refers to limitations on access to socially significant information on the basis of nationality, language, origin, property, and official status. This list is not exhaustive.

The new law will also apply to content of social networks, as well as to registered and unregistered online media such as blogs.

Discriminating status

The Attorney General, with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can designate discriminating status to the owner of an information resource that is found to violate rights and freedoms and/or to discriminate against official Russian media. The Attorney General's office then sends the ruling to Roskomnadzor for execution.

Roskomnadzor begins by placing the resource on a "black list" register. Within a day, it must send a warning to the respondent and request that the violation be rectified within a period specified in the warning. If a violation is not addressed, Roskomnadzor can then block the resource fully or partially. If, however, the respondent takes actions deemed satisfactory by Roskomnadzor, the latter will notify the Attorney General and ask for it to be unblocked.

Typically, the Attorney General's office issues its rulings in response to petitions from concerned individuals or organizations; but it may also conduct investigations at its own initiative. Rulings by the Attorney General, including those on blocking internet media or resources, can be appealed in court. If the appeal is successful, the online resource is excluded from the register and unblocked.

Alongside Federal law N 482-FZ two more related laws were adopted in the same period that provide grounds of liability and establish fines for failure to delete prohibited information from online sources:

(1) Law N 530-FZ on Amendments to the Law on Information, which contains provisions analogous to those described above: and

(2) Law on Amendments to the Administrative Code N 511-FZ.

Fines for failing to delete materials

The Law on Amendments to the Administrative Code N 511-FZ specifies fines for the failure to delete prohibited information relating to calls for extremism, drug propaganda, or child pornography. According to Roskomnadzor, as of April 2020, approximately 20,000 instances of prohibited materials had still not been deleted.

Hosting providers and owners of websites and informational resources are currently required to restrict public access to prohibited information or to delete it. Up to this point, however, there has been no liability for non-compliance, either for individuals or legal entities.

In accordance with the new amendments to the Administrative Code, failure to comply with the requirements to restrict access to prohibited information will lead to fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles for individuals; from 200,000 to 400,000 rubles for company executives; and from 800,000 to four million rubles for legal entities. Similar fines have also been proposed for failing to delete illegal information.

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