Tuesday, 22 September

A lot of materials were written about a bill, that will establish a complete censorship on the Ukrainian Internet, and each self-respecting blogger managed to express his, mostly rather sharp, point of view. However, the question of possible blocking of websites in Ukraine remains open, in particular, due to the demonized draft law 6688. Opinion found out, what was the thing, that drove community mad, What are the odds of passing the bill, who and in what conditions can block websites in Ukraine, and whether blocking is always a synonym for security.

Why did Draft №6688 drive the community mad?

“Roskomnadzor analogue”, “a new round of Ukrainian censorship”, “blocking the freedom of speech” is just a small part of the names that the users of the network managed to give to the sensational bill. Artur Karvatskyi, an expert on national security and law enforcement activities of the “Institute of Legislative Ideas” social organization and a member of the “Council of Public expert examination” working advisory group at the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Prevention and Counteraction of Corruption, explained that there is, in fact, a real problem in the defense from threats on the Internet in Ukraine, however, the indignation among users and experts is caused by the fact, that the powers specified in the text of the bill in all countries are consistent only with Russian legislation.

“The thing is, that in Ukraine there is a real omission in the field of protection against cyber threats. You can remember several attacks, that paralyzed transactions in one of the banks. In addition, the content that is distributed by Internet bots (aimed at heating up the conflict in society) can be found in the Ukrainian web space more and more often. Another thing is that the method of control of this situation, raises a lot of questions, and not only from the side of the Ukrainian expert community. The powers, that are fixed in the bill do not have the analogues among other similar in the EU member states, but very consistent with the laws of the Russian Federation”, the specialist explained.

Olena Drozdova, Ph.D. in Law, attorney for the defense and the head of the “Drozdova and partners” law bureau in the comments to Opinion noted, that the changes introduced by the bill may affect not only natural person but also the legal person, and in both cases, one should expect negative consequences.

“The bill provides for amendments, that concern both natural person but also a legal person. The negative consequences for the first one will be in the fact, that their right to collect, receive and distribute information is limited, which “some controlling bodies” recognize as dangerous (although the law does not clearly define what kind of information it will be and what are the criteria for its “danger”), and the fact that, in the process of monitoring and catching those, who distribute such content, ordinary users will be in evidence of public authorities. And this, just think of it, is a violation of a number of personal human rights, guaranteed as international.

As for organizations, that provide Internet services and are holders of certain sites and social networks, the Bill primarily draws them into losses and put at risk the opportunity to work, since it requires that they, first of all, must establish appropriate expensive equipment at their own expense, and, secondly, will suffer from permanent errors, troubles and inspections, that will become inevitable in case of passage of the bill”, said Olena Drozdova.

Reflecting on this, the journalist and analyst Oleksandr Yaroschuk told Opinion, that the bill, that was already withdrawn by the People’s Deputies was an attempt to introduce the total censorship in Ukraine, and the document itself is not an example of European integration, but rather an attempt to integrate into the Russian Customs Union.

“The 6688 Bill, which, fortunately, has already been withdrawn, but is it for long, is an attempt to introduce the total censorship in Ukraine. Who chooses censorship in general? It is peculiar for totalitarian dictatorial regimes, where there is one bonehead, who thinks of his own skin and wants to use any situation to meet his own interests. For example, a security situation. Classics. What the authors of this law suggest is not an example of European integration, but integration into the Customs Union of Russia. There were exactly those people, who would have supported such a law – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The introduction of censorship on the Internet – is the ability to watch each user of the Internet, the security service and the police will watch your every move, cough and sneeze, you will be a human target in their electronic sight. And what’s the most fun is that all of you will be forced to pay”, Olexandr Yaroshchuk stated.

Vita Volodovska, a lawyer of the “Laboratory of Digital Security” social organization and the Coalition “For the Free Internet” added that  the regulation on the need for telecommunication providers to purchase and install at their own expense special technical means, that would make it possible to block access to websites is no less threatening.

“The technical specifications of such equipment should be determined later by the State Service of Special Communication together with the SBU. The experience of countries where there is a duty to install such “technical means”, such as Russia or China, say that their functions are rarely limited to blocking. They can be used, in particular, for illegal spying on users of the Internet, violating their right to privacy”, the expert explained.

Websites blocking in Ukraine: can anyone make such decisions?

Olexandr Riabtsev assured Opinion, that blocking Internet resources is a fairly widespread practice, but at the same time it is senseless: with the help of certain technical means, it is possible to avoid any restriction that has already been proved by other countries.

“Websites blocking is an ordinary course, but 6688 introduces another procedure – blocking sites for 48 hours WITHOUT a court decision. That is, someone can block for 48 hours, for example, “Rosetka”, and then “arrange” of its unblocking.
In general, blocking is an extremely senseless thing, since there are many ways to access “forbidden” content, as demonstrated by Russia’s example, and even China’s example, where the so-called “big Chinese firewall” that filters all traffic in the Chinese Internet segment was made. At the same time, both Russians and Chinese are getting access through proxies or VPNs”, the speaker convinced.

Vita Volodovska, in her turn, explained, that today in Ukraine only the resources through which child pornography is distributed can be blocked. A similar moment is the removal of specific information due to copyrights.

“Today, the Law of Ukraine” On Telecommunications “provides for only one case where providers are obliged to block access to resources – if child pornography is disseminated through them. Such blocking is carried out exclusively by a court decision.

Another approach lies in the protection of copyrights on the Internet. Thus, requirements for the removal of specific information, violating copyrights (not blocking the entire site) are sent to the owner of the website or hosting provider who may fulfill such requirements or refuse, if there are reasons (also defined in the law) for this. Moreover, such a preliminary removal should be accompanied by compulsory subsequent judicial review “, the lawyer shared.

«VK.com», «OK.ru» and «Yandex»: what are the results of previous restrictions?

Olena Drozdova is convinced, that at the time of blocking a part of Russian resources such actions had a political subtext, but the very “refusal” actually is on the conscience of users: someone moved to new platforms, others simply turned on VPN.
“At that time, such actions included, first of all, a political subtext aimed at demonstrating a decisive denial of Ukraine from all Russian, however, such a” refusal “actually took place only at the level of those who made that decision. Ordinary Ukrainians simply switched over to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, where all the most popular communities and blogs were quickly restored. That is – only the form has changed. Another part of Ukrainians, who did not want to leave their web-pages, got special programs, that help to access the forbidden resources under the domain name of another country”, the lawyer commented.

Artur Karvatskii stressed, that in the case of a number of Russian websites, the blocking was not due to content, but due to certain security risks. However, the bill №6688 provides approximately the same mechanism, which without difficulty, too, can be bypassed.

“The blocking of individual social networks was carried out by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council by a ban on the Ukrainian provider. However, it is not forbidden to use this service through the VPN mechanism. Blocking a site in the context of a bill reminds of this same mechanism, that is, it will be possible to apply any technology of circumvention. However, in the EU directives, it is about the exemption of a certain content from the website, without blocking the whole site. At the same time, the blocking of individual services has led to a decline in their use of more than half. However, the blocking was not due to the content, but because of the hypothetical possibilities of cooperation of intelligence services of the Russian Federation with these platforms”, the expert of national security issues explained to Opinion.

Taras Kislii, an advisor and the head of the practice of EPAP Ukraine, said to Opinion, that generally speaking, today, the blocking of any websites , should be treated as a temporary tactical superiority over the aggressor country.

“We may say, that this is a temporary solution. The blocking was of the social networks controlled by the aggressor country. In practice, the blocking can be bypassed, but a significant part of users of such social networks do not know how to do this. Many of these users have joined other social networks, first of all, probably, Facebook, which is now less and less like a safe place. In the world there is a constant and increasingly aggressive confrontation at the level of influential states, and Internet resources are the means of attack in this confrontation. Therefore, whatever the websites being blocked by the state today, this is only a temporary tactical advantage, which the enemy will constantly try to level off by the impact on other Internet resources and their users”, Taras Kislii explained.

Is a website blocking a security tool?

Is a website blocking a security tool?

Olexandr Riabtsev asserted Opinion, that there is nothing in common between security and blocking of websites, and the main weapon in the fight against hostile resources is only qualitative counterpropaganda and the creation of such conditions, in which the citizens will trust the information, that is heard from the officials.

“For professionals, it’s quite obvious, that websites blocking has nothing to do with security. Any software that wants to hide on a user’s computer will be distributed through calls to specific IP addresses (which will constantly change!). The blocking of these websites is intended to create the background for censorship and corruption, which I have already mentioned in the answer to the second question. The main tool in the fight against hostile resources is high-quality counter-propaganda (greetings to the Ministry of data policy!) And the creation of conditions within the state that will inspire confidence in actions and information, disseminated by officials”, Ryabtsev comments.

In his turn, Taras Kyslyi emphasized, that blocking is possible, but it should be done so that it does not restrict freedom of speech, as there is a significant difference between the opposition to propaganda and the persecution of critics of power.

“Blocking should be sufficient and comparable tool, which at the same time does not restrict freedom of speech. One thing is counteraction to hostile propaganda, quite another – prosecution of critics of power, investigators, and simply harassing private business for corruption reasons”, summed up the expert.

But Vita Volodovska in a commentary to our media concluded, that the blocking should not be considered an effective weapon in the information warfare, especially since no state-funded studies have been conducted on this subject yet. Instead, there is an alternative.

“In fact, blocking sites is a completely ineffective tool in the information warfare. For today, any blocking measures can be very easy bypassed. There are a lot of technologies, but the main thing is that they all are pretty. And there are a lot of websites, that can spread propaganda and their closing may require an undefended high cost of resources. By the way, there are no federal researches on whether the propaganda on the Internet really impacts the information security of the state seriously.

It seems more expedient to invest resources in high-quality Ukrainian content, support projects, aimed at solving the myths of Russian propaganda, such as Stop Fake, and strengthening of the cybersecurity of objects of critical information infrastructure”,  the lawyer is assured.

Is there is a chance for the controversial bill to be adopted?

Artur Karvatskyi said, that the initiator of the draft law gave a promise to remove it from consideration, but the text of the document is still on the website of the Verkhovna Rada. According to the expert, the adoption of 6688 will mean the legalization of censorship in its negative manifestation.

“Initiator Ivan Vinnyk promised to remove the bill from consideration, however, a day after his promise, the bill is still on the official website of the Verkhovna Rada as included in the agenda. At the same time, the OSCE, as well as more than ten non-governmental organizations, whose activity is one way or another connected to the freedom of access to information, has sharply negated the bill. Its adoption in the current edition will mean the legalization of censorship in its negative manifestation, which, of course, will not be the object of admiration in the EU, especially after the Brussels summit, on which most of the reforms were well estimated”, Karvatskyi assured.

Vita Volodovska, in turn, stressed that in case of adoption of the bill in the current edition, we risk getting a dangerous mechanism of political manipulation, especially just before the election.

“At present, the probability, that the Bill 6688 will be adopted in the current edition has significantly decreased. At least, in the near future, it will not be approved, as the session of the Verkhovna Rada ends on July 13 and the deputies will go on vacation until September. At the same time, one of the authors of the bill, Ivan Vinnyk, has already made a public statement, that the bill will be finalized by a working group at the VRU Committee on National Security and Defense.

If the project’s threats are not eliminated, we have the risk of a rather dangerous mechanism of political manipulation just before the elections, as almost any investigator or prosecutor can block the “necessary” web resource for at least 48 hours”, Volodovska states.

Olena Drozdova predicted two options for drafting the bill: in the first one main characters will be the opponents of the documents, and in the second variant, the winner will be the author and initiators of 6688.

“Given the fact that the election campaign is approaching, and hence the people’s deputies throw all their forces and resources at cleansing karma”, the scenario of the play entitled “Bill 6688” can move in two directions.

In the first one the main actors will be those, who will defend the inadmissibility of the adoption of the bill due to its unlawfulness. Here the main thing will be to catch a wave of popular indignation, which has already failed as a result of the overwhelming threat of total control by the state of the personal lives and successfully uses it, speaking with loud slogans.

In the second variant – people’s elected representatives will turn the bill back on finishing, democratize it and accept it, not with the aim of strengthening the national cybersecurity, but in order to later use new means of control to propagate its own political ideas within the framework of the election campaign, since prohibited and cleaned up resources should be filled with some information”, the lawyer predicted .

Text: Dmytro Zhuravel

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