Are you an authoritarian state struggling to control the internet within your borders? Well, just ask the master for help.
Russia has worked hard to build its own wide-ranging system of internet filtering and control; however, there are still some serious kinks to work out and some big gaps to fill. Over the summer, the country passed an extremely controversial measure known as the Yarovaya Law. This regulation mandate that Russia’s telecom and internet providers store user data for six months and hold on to metadata for three years. After it was passed, Edward Snowden referred to it as the “Big Brother law.”
Russia's new Big Brother law is an unworkable, unjustifiable violation of rights that should never be signed. https://t.co/HNsYmRaxR3
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) June 25, 2016
But, Big Brother had a problem. Turns out it’s really hard to store and handle all that data, and the Kremlin obviously can’t just go to the United States for help. So instead, Russia has asked China about incorporating elements of the infamous “Great Firewall” into its own system.
A report from The Guardian gives a rundown on how the two countries have been working together recently:
The strategy is being developed in close cooperation with China after a string of high-level meetings in Beijing and Moscow this year. At their first cybersecurity forum, in April, top Chinese officials and their Russian counterparts gathered in Moscow for the talks. Delegates included Lu Wei, the head of China’s state internet information office, Fang Binxing, the so-called father of the Great Firewall and Igor Shchyogolev, President Vladimir Putin’s assistant on internet issues and former minister of communications.
Earlier this year, the security council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, who was head of the Russian Federal Security Service during Putin’s 2000-08 presidency, had two meetings with Chinese politburo members on information security; and in June, Putin went to Beijing to sign a joint communique about cyberspace.
In August it was reported that Bulat, the Russian telecoms equipment manufacturer, was in talks with Huawei, the Chinese telecoms company, to buy technologies for data storage and produce servers to implement Yarovaya’s law.
The Chinese officials also ensured senior Huawei staff were present at key information security conferences in Russia, and the company was the major sponsor of the Russian information security forum held in Beijing in October.
And who knows, perhaps the student will someday surpass the master. In this year’s Freedom House survey on internet freedom, Russia ranked 65th out of 88 countries, while China took the dead last spot for the second year in a row. But just this month, Russia blocked its internet users from accessing LinkedIn — something that not even China has done.
Still, it’s important to remember that no censorship system is ever perfect, so you should always follow Great Firewall architect Fan Binxing’s example and keep a VPN handy just in case.
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