Russia Intensifies Censorship Campaign, Pressuring Tech Giants

On Feb. 16, a Roskomnadzor official said companies that did not comply by the end of the month would face penalties. In addition to fines and possible shutdowns or slowdowns, the penalties could disrupt ad sales, search engine operations, data collection and payments, according to the law.

“For those companies that have not started the procedure for ‘landing’ we will consider the issue of applying measures before the end of this month,” Vadim Subbotin, deputy head of Roskomnadzor, told the Russian Parliament, according to Russian media.

Human-rights and free-speech groups said they were disappointed that some of the tech companies, often viewed inside Russia as less beholden to the government, were complying with the law without public protest.

“The ulterior motive behind the adoption of the landing law is to create legal grounds for extensive online censorship by silencing remaining opposition voices and threatening freedom of expression online,” said Joanna Szymanska, an expert on Russian internet censorship efforts at Article 19, a civil society group based in London.

Mr. Chikov, who has represented companies including Telegram in cases against the Russian government, said he met with Facebook last year to discuss its Russia policies. Facebook executives sought advice on whether to pull out of Russia, he said, including cutting off access to Facebook and Instagram. The company complied with the laws instead.

Mr. Chikov urged the tech companies to speak out against the Russian demands, even if it results in a ban, to set a wider precedent about fighting censorship.

“There have been times when the big tech companies have been leaders in terms of not only technology but also in civil liberties and freedom of expression and privacy,” he said. “Now they behave more like big transnational corporations securing their business interests.”

Anton Troianovski and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

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