A Russian Internet service provider unintentionally blocked the entire Russian portal of LiveJournal in one region of Russia while fulfilling a court order to block one LiveJournal blog. Though service to LiveJournal has been restored, the incident demonstrates the ease of overblocking, made all the easier following the passage of a new law in Russia that allows the government to blacklist websites containing pornography, drug advertisements or suicide promotion.
On July 18, a court in Yaroslavl, a region northeast of Moscow, ordered local Internet provider Netis Telecom to shut off access to a neo-Nazi blog hosted on LiveJournal on the grounds that the blog violates Russia’s laws against extremism. According to Global Voices, this blog has appeared on the federal Justice Ministry’s “list of extremist materials” since 2009, even though the blog has not been updated since 2008. The court order instructed the ISP to block the blog by blocking its IP address. Because each LiveJournal blog shares the same IP address, this order actually triggered the blocking of the entire site.
According to The Daily Dot, “LiveJournal blogs don’t have unique IP addresses. That IP belongs to all of LiveJournal Russia, effectively blacking out LiveJournal for everyone in Yaroslavl (a city of nearly 600,000) and all the surrounding areas to which Netis Telekom provides service.” LiveJournal is the most popular blogging platform in Russia. The company’s CEO in Russia, Ilya Dronov, explained further in a blog post that IP blocking cannot just target one specific LiveJournal site, but blocks the entire platform.
IP blocking is a form of technical filtering that can result in overblocking because it can “knock out large swaths of acceptable websites simply because they are hosted on the same IP address as a site with restricted content.” A Yaroslavl prosecutor told reporters that the ISP went beyond the court order, which only required filtering or blocking a specific blog, not the entire portal. However, Anton Nosik, a popular blogger and head of the company that owns LiveJournal, blamed the technological illiteracy of Russian officials for the temporary block of the platform.
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.
A spokesperson for LiveJournal U.S. told The Daily Dot that the temporary shutdown was related to a new law in Russia, which makes it easier to remove web pages that contain prohibited materials related to child pornography, drug use and suicide promotion. The law also provides for the creation of an “Internet blacklist” for websites that host such content. LiveJournal in Russia was one of several websites to protest the blacklist law when it was being considered by the Duma, Russia’s parliament. This is not the first time that authorities have applied Russia’s “law on extremism” to justify taking down objectionable online content, and with this new law, it likely will not be the last.