Russian President Vladimir Putin is tightening his grip on the Internet one new restriction at a time.
The latest regulation is a law he signed on Monday that will require popular online bloggers to register with the government by Aug. 1. It also classifies all websites with more than 3,000 daily visitors as full-fledged media outlets, requiring them to take responsibility for the accuracy of the information they put online.
Once the law goes into effect, no one will be allowed to blog anonymously, and social networks and search engines will be required to keep records of all information posted on their sites dating back six months. The records must be kept within Russia’s borders.
Punishment for breaking the law can result in a shutdown of the offending website and/or a fine of up to $142,000.
Critics of the law told Reuters and the New York Times that it was designed to stamp out political voices opposed to Putin and would give the Russian government the ability to easily decipher who was driving online conversation.
Such criticism is nothing new — Russia has already tried to enact controversial controls over its Internet audience, which is the fastest-growing in Europe, according to Reuters.
The Kremlin recently blocked access to the websites of Russian dissidents Garry Kasparov and Alexei Navalny because it claimed both sites asked Russian citizens to break the law. Kasparov is a former chess world champion who has since become an an advocate for democracy in Russia and even ran for president in 2007. Navalny has previously led demonstrations against Putin and has continued to oppose the government through his blog.
And on Monday, the same day Putin signed the new “bloggers law,” he also signed another law that prohibits cursing in music, books, movies and more.
Despite fear over the “bloggers law,” it’s unclear how effectively Moscow can enforce it. The law does not specify how the government will count site visitors. According to the New York Times, blogging platforms LiveJournal and Yandex have decided to halt their public traffic counters below the 3,000-visitor threshold, making it unclear how the government will prove those sites garner enough traffic to qualify as media outlets.
The law also does not make clear whether platforms primarily run outside Russia such as Google or Facebook will also have to store data on Russian soil if they want to continue operating in the country.
But the law’s vagueness is of little comfort to critics who see Putin building a censorship regime.