Putin signs law prohibiting use of VPNs to access banned websites in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that prohibits VPNs in the countryAlexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/Reuters

President Vladimir Putin has signed a law over the weekend that prohibits use of technology to access websites banned in Russia, including virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxies. The new law will come into effect on 1 November, Reuters reports.

Under the law signed by Putin on Saturday (29 July) and published on the Russian government's website on Sunday, internet service providers will be required to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. The law was approved by the Duma, the lower house of parliament, last week as thousands of people protested in the streets of Moscow demanding an end to Russian efforts to control and monitor online content.

Russian lawmakers argue that the law will help prevent the spread of extremist content and ideas online. Leonid Levin, the head of the Duma's information policy committee, said the law is not intended to introduce new restrictions for law-abiding Russians, but rather block access to "illegal content," RIA news agency reports.

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The law comes as Russia continues to expand government control over the internet, citing concerns over the dissemination of extremist material and other illegal content online. In 2014, Russian authorities introduced strict regulations mandating internet firms to store the data of Russian users on servers within the country.

According to independent watchdog organisation Freedom House, anti-extremism laws are "widely used as a pretext to block political content, often without judicial oversight".

Another law signed by Putin on Saturday will require operators of instant messaging services, including messenger apps, to identify users through their phone numbers after 1 January, 2018. It will also require these operators to restrict access to users, at the government's request, if people are found to be spreading illegal content.

The law will come into effect before the Russian presidential election in March 2018. Putin is expected to seek and secure another six-year term in the election. The new laws were signed shortly after it was revealed that Apple had pulled VPN apps from its China App store at the request of the government.

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