Maxim Ksenzov: “We don’t see great risks in blocking Twitter in Russia”
On 1st August Russia will carry into effect a law tо oblige the bloggers, whose Internet publications are read by more than 3 ths. users per day, to register at Roscomnadzor. From this day the popular bloggers or the so-called mass-media "MSM-bloggers"' will not be able to disseminate state secrets, to use swear words and to publish the content prohibited in the Russian Federation. They will be obliged to validate the published in Internet information on physical and legal persons, as well as to have the right to place paid-for advertisements at their webpages. This Law will be applicable not only to the Russian Internet resources that shall be obliged to provide information on "its bloggers", if needed, but also to foreign Internet sites. To find out how the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications prepares for this Law implementation and what it is going to do in case the owners of foreign Internet sites disregard the Russian laws a correspondent of Izvestiya interviewed Maxim Ksenzov, Deputy Head of Roscomnadzor.
- On 1st August Russia is going to put the so-called law on bloggers into execution. Many people are still sure that this law makes bloggers equal to MSM. Is that true?
- No, such understanding of the Federal Law adopted at the beginning of May is not quite correct. This Law for the first time introduces the “blogger” concept in the legal environment and relates bloggers to the category of subjects vested with a number of rights and required to carry out certain requirements in the course of distributing mass information. These requirements are similar to that ones applied to MSM, however, this does not mean that bloggers and professional journalists are legally equal.
- Then what is the difference?
- The sets of rules of professional journalists and bloggers differ to some extent. Bloggers are legally authorized to look for and distribute information freely, but the area of their interaction, for example, with governmental bodies is more limited as compared to MSM representatives. So, the Law does not legitimate the liability to accredit bloggers at press conferences, to provide them with information on companies’ activities and etc. At that the new legal reality makes bloggers special persons bearing their own responsibility for the content of distributed information. While the most of reporters’ liabilities are taken by editorial staff and chief editor. The list of blogger’s commitments also does not match for 100% with that of journalists. The latter includes a broad mix of requirements imposed on journalists as representatives of socially responsible profession and on editorial staff as representatives of an organization distributing mass information. So, there is a great difference between bloggers and journalists.
-Does Roscomnadzor have any plans to establish a special service responsible for dealing with blogger issues?
-The Law does not stipulate allocation of additional financial resources and experts for its implementation. We plan to use the currently available resources which we are rearranging now and we strive to adapt as much as practical to the new challenges.
- There are in fact 2 months left before the Law enters into force. What will be the preparations for its implementation?
- We plan to prepare 13 draft subordinate acts before 10 June, 10 of which are governmental acts, some of which relates to our competence and some – the competence of the Federal Security Service of Russia as some provisions of law deal with anti-terror issues. In addition, there will be issued one Order by the Ministry of Telecom & Mass Communications and two Departmental orders by Roscomnadzor. We intend to carry out this work in close cooperation with all involved parties. I have already held preliminarily working meeting with some representatives of not the largest but recognizable cyberspaces. Despite the fact that they, maybe , do not enter in the top list of market participants, I believe that their opinion should be also taken into account. We plan to hold an extended meeting between the biggest Internet players – Yandex, Google, Mail.ru, LiveJournal and others. We also invited the representatives of Facebook and Twitter.
- Will the popular Russian bloggers who live abroad, but use our resources also fall within the scope of the Law?
- Apparently, they will. The Law has to be applied to everyone writing in Russian or other language of people living in Russia, expects to attract attention of the Russian audience and uses for this purpose the resources of the Russian platforms irrespective to their passport records. They need to fulfill requirements imposed by the Law.
- The law will also cover foreign cyberspaces. Do you cooperate with them in implementation of other laws, such as the anti-extremist law applied for Internet. What is their reaction to the Roscomnadzor's requirements?
- There is a general problem of interaction with global American companies: Facebook, Twitter and Google. Twitter and Facebook are not legally presented in Russia. Google has a representative office in Russia. But our communication with it often resembles a sort of game. In some cases they can take decisions on their own, but in other cases they refer to their transatlantic corporate lawyers and managers and pretend to be unable to do anything – like nothing depends on us. When it comes to money – everything depends on them. But when the state imposes its legal requirements, their representative powers are suddenly and sharply reduced. At that these companies profits gained from Russian people go directly abroad and they do not pay any taxes in Russia. It must be said that it is a usual practice of many other foreign companies, for example Apple, that sell content or services in our country.
- And what about Facebook?
- Facebook has its representative office in Sweden. Its activities cover North Europe, Scandinavian countries, Russia and Asia as far as I remember. We actively communicate with the Russian-speaking manager operating in the company’s representative office in London. This compensates a lack of representative office to some extent. Unlike Google, they take up a motivated and consistent position. For example, they regularly execute our orders in relation to Right Sector (Pravy/Pravyi Sektor) Groups, which access was limited in the Russian Federation at the request of General Prosecutor’s Office.
- And what about Twitter?
- Twitter is a purely American company that does not have any foreign representative offices. It looks like it plans to open a representative office in Dublin and not for the purpose to develop their business, but to reduce their taxes. This points to the fact that Twitter is not oriented to the particular audience of the countries they operate in. They take little interest in the local markets. They regard users as an instrument of their policy. I don’t mean a commercial policy. They promote their corporate interests and interests of the state of their jurisdiction. I think that this is the main difference from Google that in a greater degree looks like a transnational corporation which corporate interests prevail over that of individual states. Indeed, the current Google’s capitalization is comparable with the budget of a rather big economy. Google implements a great number of commercial and humanitarian projects oriented to the local audience. However, when interacting with the state bodies in each specific country Google applies a flexible approach only in case it makes more profit than taking a principal position.
- With whom do most of all difficulties arise?
- The Facebook and YouTube (belongs to the Google corporation - "Izvestia") consider our opinion and periodically delete illegal content. The necessary decisions are taken not quickly. But, for example, it is possible to "clean" on these resources the majority of pages, groups and the materials connected with international extremist organizations. It happens sometimes that we receive refuses to delete individual materials. Then the accent in negotiations is displaced towards restriction of access to such materials in the territory of Russia by the platform itself. Twitter flatly refuses in most cases to delete the illegal information. It is in this network that a lot of extremist content is disseminated. One of few accounts we managed to remove published monstrous things. It was conducted in Russian, the information on Syria with photos of executed people, with appeals to overthrow the existing political regime and destruction of capitalism as systems were placed there. Sometimes the things that universally are qualified by the international community as something absolutely unacceptable, for example propaganda of terrorism, are freely disseminated by American Internet companies. It is impossible to explain from the position of freedom of speech.
- But all the same their product works in territory of our country, so it falls under the Russian legislation. Does the corporate centre of Twitter somehow show the initiative in interacting with you?
- I held several times videoconferences with representatives of Twitter. Several dozens of employees work in the company, the control system is dispersed. The employee who is responsible there for interaction with other countries is a former adviser of the US Secretary of Energy. Such personnel solution suggests certain thoughts. I have a persistent sensation that Twitter is a global tool for promoting political information. In interacting with us they use their audience as a means of achieving goals. In doing this the importance of the user as a person, his interests for the company are reduced to the lowest level. In refusing consistently to fulfil our requirements they deliberately create conditions under which blocking of this resource becomes almost inevitable in territory of this country.
- Do they put their heads under blocking intentionally? Why do they do this?
- It is necessary to explain one technical detail. Twitter, as well as Facebook, works in accordance with the https:// protocol where enciphering is applied in transferring information about user inquiries to site pages. In working with this protocol the technical systems used for "fine" blocking of individual site pages cannot identify enciphered traffic. Thus, blocking of one and only illegal "tweet" automatically leads to a situation when all the audience is left without access to the resource. Law abiding users suffer. We take this into account in taking each law enforcing decision. We weigh and compare the harm inflicted by the socially dangerous information disseminated to a big, but nevertheless limited audience, with possible negative consequences of blocking for millions of diligent users. And invariably we try to achieve the execution of the law by negotiations. But always there is a certain line, a limit of non-constructive interaction behind which the state has no choice but protecting interests of the society. It turns out that refusing to fulfil lawful demands of government authorities corporations frame up their users.
- In Europe nobody tries to interfere with the work of American resources and it is not a problem.
- Europe in its social and cultural development follows the path of assimilation - absorption of cultures, peoples, nations, races. In the European mass consciousness there is no line of a valuable watershed with the USA. Europeans and Americans feel themselves as a part of the uniform western civilization whose ideological attitudes are presented as an apex of human progress and an ideal model of a social system for the whole world. So the geopolitical influence is extended. And the Internet as a cross-border technology capable of entangling the whole world is an ideal tool of global information influence.
- It turns out that this influence takes place now in the direction from the West to the East. What other countries besides Russia try to protect themselves from this influence?
- A pole of Internet development opposite to the West is China which built «a great Chinese firewall», that is simply forbade many western resources and created, as a matter of fact, a closed internal network, a capsule. Google is under a ban there; Facebook under a ban, YouTube is not present, instead of Twitter – Sina Weibo, a microblog service of their own. Such policy towards the Internet is caused by a set of factors - political, economic, and mental. In my opinion, it is an extreme system measure that should be disregarded in the development by different countries of state approaches to the Network regulation. But obvious is the fact that a steady trend is traced in many countries to the protection of national and public interests in the Internet. In Thailand for example where discussion and even mentioning of members of the royal family is forbidden by the law the dissemination of similar information is limited in territory of the kingdom. The Russian network «VKontakte» (In Contact) is inaccessible in the whole territory of Italy by the decision of the Roman court for the copyright law infringement. The governments of England and France expressed a lot of displeasures in relation to the Google. The recent example with blocking of Twitter by the government of Turkey though caused certain indignation in the western countries, but nevertheless their negative rhetoric was reserved enough.
- Are the favourite in Russia prohibitive measures a unique way to regulate the Internet in this country?
- I do not like the word combination «prohibitive measures». I would call as guarding those legal measures that were taken in Russia regarding the Internet. They are effective where there is a serious social threat. But the best protection of a society from foreign influence is creation of own qualitative product. This product should not simply substitute for the western resources on the Chinese sample but make them a worthy competition, including in international markets. Some years ago we estimated a potential commodity market of the Russian content at 600 million persons in the world. It is possible to involve these people with a combination of reasonable price and quality of services. The Russian Internet branch has at the present stage everything for qualitative leap forward. In few places in the world it is possible to meet an internal Internet market where several mails services, search engines, already even operating systems compete among themselves. Mail.ru and Yandex create their products which they are promoting in the West and with which they successfully compete there; they actively work with mobile platforms. By common efforts of the state and the branch it is possible to create our own network world which will give users a choice and will force out the foreign and alien product. I am sure that Internet projects of the Russian origin will be more and more demanded.
- All necessary legal frameworks are created in Russia now to lawfully follow the lead of Turkey. When will this occur?
- We can block the Twitter or Facebook in Russia within several minutes even tomorrow. We do not see big risks in it. If at some instant we conclude that consequences from "deenergizing" social networks will be less essential in comparison with the harm that the non-constructive position of international companies management does to the Russian society we will do what we are obliged to do by the law.
Time of the publication: 22.05.2014 16:35
Last modified: 22.05.2014 16:45