Wikipedia shut down its Russian website Tuesday to protest the Russian government’s latest initiative in censoring the Internet.
The Russian Parliament passed a bill Wednesday that would the government to censor and shut down any website deemed illegal. Critics, including Wikipedia, complained of the possibility that a China-like firewall might trample the free flow of information that’s central to the economy of the Web.
“The proposed law would create a “black list” of content that is prohibited for publication and would create procedures for blocking Web hosting companies that do not block the banned material,” said Internet policy coalition Broadband for America on its blog Wednesday. “Law enforcement agents would be empowered to add sites to the registry of banned material, in some cases without obtaining a court order.”
The bill currently awaits Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature.
Wikipedia, according to a New York Times report, was joined by Russian websites Yandex and VKontakte, along with LiveJournal — a home for many of Russia’s outspoken political commentators.
Wikipedia had posted a large warning banner on its site, which read, “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”
Major Internet sites, including Google and Wikipedia, staged a similar protest at the beginning of the year, alerting users of a pair of bills in the U.S. Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) — that were aimed at combating websites that facilitated and profited from commercial copyright infringement. Sites involved in the protest claimed that the bills would lead to censorship of the Web.
The vote comes a week after the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to protect the free flow of information online. The measure was signed by 85 countries, including the United States. Russia, who, along with China, has been working to institute on the international level its own vision of the future of the Internet, which includes strict international governance, did not approve of the measure.
Both countries argue for strong international Internet governance to better protect their citizen’s safety online. Critics of these countries, however, view their policy goals as political cover for their oppressive domestic Internet policies.