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[liberationtech] Russian Internet Content Monitoring System To Go Live In December

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at
Wed Nov 9 04:39:52 PST 2011

From Techdirt:

# Russian Internet Content Monitoring System To Go Live In December
by Glyn Moody

Wed, Nov 9th 2011 2:33am

Back in April of this year, [the Russian government put out a tender][]:

> Last week, Roskomnadzor, Russian Federal Service for Telecoms
Supervision, announced a public tender for developing Internet
monitoring system. According to the tender, the budget for such system
is 15 million rubles (about $530,000) and the job applications should be
submitted by April 15, 2011. The system needs to be developed by August
15, 2011 and the testing period should end on December 15, 2011.

The stated purpose of the monitoring system was quite specific:

> The major target of the monitoring, at least according to the Russian
officials, is not traditional media websites or blogs, but comments at
the online media outlets (it is important to note that the monitoring
system is intended to be used for the content of the sites officially
registered as online mass media).

Here’s what it would be searching for:

> Michail Vorobiev, an assistant to the head of Roskomnadzor, [told][]
[ru] Russian information agency RIA Novosti that the system’s purpose
was to discover content recognized by the Russian law as illegal. Such
system will be based on two elements: a storage that would contain
illegal materials (some sort of “thesaurus of illegal keywords”) and the
search system that will scan through the online space and compare the
online text with the illegal content in the storage.
>  The description of the tender is a long and openly published
[document][] [ru], so what exactly the system should look for is not a
secret. The number and the nature of goals that the search robot should
achieve are surprising. It goes ways beyond incitement of national
hatred or appeals to violence. In includes not only terrorism, appeals
to actions that threaten constitutional order, materials that disclose
classified security information, propaganda of drugs and pornography,
but also false information about federal and regional officials, as well
as content that threatens the freedom and secrecy of choice during
elections. Another interesting goal is to discover content with hidden
embedded components that seek to influence subconsciousness. If it�s not
enough, the program would monitor not only textual, but also visual
content (photos and videos).

It’s hard to see how a system costing just half-a-million dollars could
achieve all that. And as Russian commentators have pointed out, allowing
just a few months for the development and testing is equally suspicious:

> For instance, Maksim Salomatin from [says][] [ru] that the
fact that participants of the tender should finish the work on the
system in impossible 3 months means that, probably, Roskomnadzor has in
mind some particular organization that has already worked on this program.

In other words, perhaps the whole tendering process was a formality, and
things had already been moving forward on this front in the background
for some time. Support for that theory comes from the fact that despite
the “impossible 3 months” of development, [the system will indeed be
rolled out next month][]:

> Roskomnadzor, Russian telecommunications control body, will launch
content monitoring system in December 2011, [reports][]
[ru]. The system ordered in March, 2011 (see GV analysis [here][the
Russian government put out a tender]) is now in pre-release condition.
Its documented abilities allow the monitoring of up to 5 mln keywords
published at the websites registered as online mass media outlets. It
will also monitor user comments. The experts fear that the scale of
monitoring will extend to non-registered blogs and sites.

As that points out, the danger is that once such a system is up and
running, it will be progressively extended to include first “unofficial”
media sites like blogs, and then, eventually, everything online. That
might also explain why the tender quotes such a ridiculously small
figure: the final system would be pretty expensive, but revealing that
fact in the original tender would give away the true scope.

The question then becomes: what will the authorities do with all that
information? Since 2010, Roskomnadzor has been able to require online
mass media to remove illegal comments, so it will presumably do the same
when content is flagged up by the new system. But the very breadth of
the online search is troubling, including as it does things like “false
information about federal and regional officials”, something that could
clearly be used against whistle-blowers.

Moreover, the danger here is not just for Russian citizens. Once again
we are seeing a government striving to keep a much closer watch on key
parts of the Internet — in this case, mass media sites. Assuming it
succeeds — or at least claims to have succeeded — that is likely to
encourage other countries to do the same.

Although it would be nice to think that only “repressive” governments
would even think of doing such a thing, recent proposals by politicians
in the US and Europe regarding [blocking sites][] and [spying on
users][] indicate how naïve that would be.

Follow me @glynmoody on [Twitter][] or [][], and on [Google+][]

## Links

  [the Russian government put out a tender]:
  [the system will indeed be rolled out next month]:
  [blocking sites]:
  [spying on users]:

Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society
W: | T: +91 80 40926283

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