Russians Contemplate Internet Controls

MOSCOW – As the Russian government and private organizations within that country struggle to impose effective legislation and rules to moderate the content and email practices of the Internet's users, they are slowly coming to grips with the realities of an increasingly unmanageable situation.

Referring to software filters that limit access to search results for words like "porn" and "drugs," head of the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications, Mikhail Seslavinsky, recently said, "The state should support the creation of special programs to limit access to websites that undermine the basic moral values."

Within this climate, the Russian Information and News Agency Novosti recently hosted an expert roundtable designed to examine the issues involved with legal regulations on the Russian Internet. The panel discussed the practicality of adopting laws aimed at enforcing rules within cyberspace, and called for the assistance of Internet service providers in combating spam and illegal content and protecting intellectual property rights.

President of the International Operators' Union, Marat Guriyev, opined that a distinction should be made between various web resources, such as entertainment sites and online news services, and e-commerce sites that would be operated under rules appropriate to the laws of business.

"There is not so much a need for special enactments that would be directly called 'laws on Internet regulation' as to learn how to apply the existing legal mechanisms in the new environment," said Oleg Byakhov of the Russian Information Technologies Ministry, in a statement that expressed the majority's opinion.

Dmitry Burkov, Deputy director of Rostelecom, highlighted the role that traditional legislation could play in regulating the Internet, pointing out that Russian communications operators are currently regulated and that laws on the press and mass media also covered Internet media. However, the legal framework governing the application and enforcement of these laws is not always effective.

On the subject of Internet service providers and their responsibility for distributing illegal content, Vadim Gorshenin, editor-in-chief of, sees a bottom line to the motivations of the system's abusers. "If it were advantageous to providers to stop spam they would stop it, if it were not profitable to run porn traffic, it would disappear," said Gorshenin, who supports an Internet free of censorship.

"You cannot relieve providers of responsibility, this makes no sense," said Major General Konstantin Machabeli, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's special technical operations department, signaling to online content and service providers that they will be held accountable for their actions.

Byakhov disagrees with this approach, however, believing that ISPs "are not responsible for the content of transferred packages, only for their timely delivery to a specified IP-address." Instead, Byakhov lays the responsibility for a website's content on its administrators.

But regulating a medium in its infancy can pose unforeseen future problems. "Not enough Russians have Internet access yet, only 10% of the population," Guriyev said. "So before regulating the Russian Internet, it should be developed first."