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Russia: Yaroslavl Court Bans LiveJournal

Earlier this week, a Yaroslavl court responded to a request from local law enforcement and ordered Internet provider Netis Telekom to shut off access to a handful of websites, including Russia's most popular blogging platform, LiveJournal.

According to Alexey Kukin of the Yaroslavl Prosecutor's Office, a monitoring sweep earlier this year turned up a neo-nazi blog hosted on LJ, access to which violates Russian federal laws against extremism. That same blog, “pat-index,” has also appeared on the Justice Ministry's “list of extremist materials” [ru] since October 2009, when a Bashkortostani court officially labeled it “extremist.” (The blog itself has not been updated since March 2008.)

Netis Telekom, with roughly 6,000 subscribers in Yaroslavl, has cut off access to the popular blogging platform LiveJournal. Photo by author.

Netis Telekom, with roughly 6,000 subscribers in Yaroslavl, has cut off access to the popular blogging platform LiveJournal. Photo by author.

Responding to criticisms of censorship, Kukin told [ru] reporters that Netis Telekom over-fulfilled the court order, arguing that the authorities only demanded the filtration of the specific blog and not the LiveJournal portal in its entirety:

Это было бы бредом говорить, что мы требовали закрытия всего сайта www.livejournal.com. Речь шла о закрытии конкретно этой страницы. И в решении суда говорится о том же.

It would be nonsense to say that we demanded the closure of all of LiveJournal. The wording [of the order] was specifically about this [sub]page. And in the court's decision, it says exactly this.

In the actual text of the court order, however, Netis Telekom is clearly instructed to block access to both “pat-index.livejournal.com” and the IP address “208.93.0.128.”

The latter category, it so happens, encompasses the LiveJournal portal in its entirety. In a July 18 blog post [ru], LJ's chief in Russia, Ilya Dronov, explained the technical aspects of IP filtration:

Что касается технической стороны вопроса, то тут провайдер действительно может блокировать только весь ЖЖ, а не отдельный дневник […].

Concerning the technical side of the [Yaroslavl] question: here the provider can only really block all of LJ, and not a specific blog […].

Acknowledging the technical obstacles [en] to blocking a specific user of a shared hosting server, Kukin implied [ru] that Netis Telekom interpreted the Yaroslavl court order too narrowly:

Ответчик, видимо, по техническим причинам перекрыл доступ ко всему ЖЖ. IP-адрес в исковом заявлении был указан общий для всего ЖЖ, но провайдер в ходе разбирательства почему-то не уточнил адрес конкретной запрещённой страницы. В любом случае, я думаю вопрос с доступом к ЖЖ в ближайшее время будет решён.

The defendant cut off access to all of LJ clearly for technical reasons. The IP address in the court order was the general address for all of LJ, but during the proceedings the provider for some reason never refined the illegal site's specific address. In any event, I think the question about access to LJ will be settled in the near future.

How Netis Telekom is meant to have “refined” its IP filtration, however, remains unclear. The URL named in the court order (“pat-index.livejournal.com”) resolves to the precise IP address also listed by the court (“208.93.0.128″). That IP address is registered [en] to livejournal.com in San Francisco, just like any other blog hosted on the site.

Equally unclear is when Netis Telekom was supposed to raise this issue, and why the Prosecutor's Office endorsed the IP address ban, if it understood in advance (as Kukin suggests was the case) that filtering “208.93.0.128″ would lead to LJ's complete closure.

Screenshot of blocked access to pat-index.livejournal.com, 19 July 2012, photo by Ilya Rassadin, used with permission.

Anton Nosik, popular blogger and Media Director for SUP Media (which owns LiveJournal), blames [ru] the Yaroslavl incident on Russian officials’ failure to understand the repercussions of their own orders:

Проблема заключается в технической безграмотности и незнании предметной области. Решение выносится людьми, которые не в состоянии оценить его природу и последствия. Эту проблему могло бы решить повышение технической грамотности судебных работников и прокуроров, но к этому нет никаких стимулов. Потому что наши судьи и прокурорские работники — это все менты, которые не прошли бы переаттестацию.

The problem lies with technological illiteracy and ignorance about the subject field. This decision was meted out by people who are incapable of assessing its nature and consequences. This problem could be solved by raising the technological literacy of court officials and prosecutors, but there is no incentive to do so because our judges and public prosecutors are the same cops who wouldn't be able to pass their own re-accreditation.

On his own LiveJournal, Nosik argued [ru] that Russian law enforcement are already acting in the spirit of the Internet ‘blacklist’ law, passed last week in the Duma (analyzed on RuNet Echo here). Andrey Malgin, another popular blogger with anti-Kremlin overtones, also tied the case to a wider crackdown on the freedom of speech online, arguing [ru] that IP blocking is likely to grow with the aid of bot networks intentionally spreading extremist or pornographic materials. If one unvisited corner of a popular hosting service can be flooded with illegal data, another court order like Yaroslavl's (to block that host's entire IP address) would presumably be very likely elsewhere in Russia.

In remarks on July 19, Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikiforov addressed the issue, saying [ru] that typically only major telecoms have the equipment necessary to perform URL filtering (specifically targeting a single LJ blog, instead of the entire domain). LiveJournal's Dronov argues that the simplest way to address such problems is to work directly with the hosting servers (in this case, with LJ itself).

He points to their Abuse Prevention Team and cites a specific internal term of service (against hate speech [en]) that offers grounds for disabling the neo-nazi blog at the center of the scandal. (The LJ blog in question, it should be noted, is still accessible, however.) Federal monitoring agency Roskomnadzor has preferred to operate in this style, and reached out to dozens of domain hosts internationally in just the first half of 2012 [ru] with requests [ru] to disable individual sites that violate privacy laws (including [ru] LiveJournal and YouTube).

Though emotions are running hot in the aftermath of the Internet ‘blacklist’ law and a series of other recent politicized legislative initiatives, not everyone seems to be worried about a domino effect of tyranny. Ilya Rassadin, the Yaroslavl programmer who leaked the photograph of the court order's text (and an active critic of the LJ ban), refuted the notion that this is the fallout of the RuNet ‘blacklist’ law.

When a Twitter user informed him that Anton Nosik had made that connection, Rassadin responded [ru] plainly, “The court's decision is not related to the [recently] approved law.” For the time being, however, most of LiveJournal's Russian language users (estimated at five million people) would likely disagree.

  • agoodtreaty

    According to the leaked image, the court order is actually very short. Even without a translation into English, you can see the URLs and IP addresses listed in the text: http://twitpic.com/a89670/full

    It seems like a compelling case can be made that the prosecutors’ and court’s technical knowledge was indeed lacking, judging by their surprise that all of LJ was effectively banned as a result of strictly observing the wording of the ruling.

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