The CIS is the first region in which ONI research documented the presence of “event-based” filtering. This form of filtering differs in technical execution from more conventional filtering forms (such as those that rely on bloc lists) and is more difficult to track and definitively ascertain. For example, during Kyrgyzstan’s 2005 parliamentary elections, two ISPs were disrupted by distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS), and then a “hacker for hire” posted threats to the affected ISPs’ visitor logs, stating that unless these sites stayed offline the attacks would continue.17 The DDOS attacks effectively disrupted the ISPs’ services because the hacker exploited the ISPs’ narrow bandwidths and dependence on a single satellite-based connection. To this day is it unclear who hired the hackers responsible for the attack, although an investigation by ONI found that they were based in Ukraine (and were also responsible for an attack on a U.S. site using the same “bot” network). The opposition accused the government of ordering the attacks as a means of undermining the opposition. The government responded by ordering the affected ISPs to keep their resources online, but this was impossible because the DDOS attack had degraded their ability to provide any services. In the end, the attack was stopped as a result of U.S. legal action against the originating “bot net,” which had also been attacking a U.S. site. When the “bot net” was taken down, the attacks against the Kyrgyz sites also stopped.
During the March 2006 presidential elections in Belarus, several opposition Web sites became suddenly inaccessible, ostensibly by innocuous network faults and DNS failures. Likewise, at the peak of protests against the election results, a major Minsk-based ISP ceased to provide dialup services owing to “technical problems.” These occurrences meant that important independent media and opposition political Web sites were not accessible at periods when the information they were conveying could have had political significance or acted as a catalyst for further political action. Although nothing transpired that could be identified as extralegal filtering, de facto access was not available when and where needed, with some evidence suggesting that tampering may have been afoot.18
This form of “event-based” information control, which temporally “shapes” Internet access, can be said to represent the emerging “2.0 version of Internet controls.” Not unlike the shorter supply line chains that boasted manufacturing efficiencies under “just in time “ production, event-based filtering can also be considered to be “just in time” as it offers greater efficiencies in denying access to information when and where it is needed. At the same time this form of targeted and time-limited filtering is much harder to prove, which also removes the potential liabilities of being “caught” undertaking more deliberative filtering.
For its size, the CIS region has a relatively underdeveloped telecommunications system, much of which remains centered on Russia. At the same time, the region itself is contiguous with (or borders) Europe, Asia, and—via the circumpolar route—North America. This centrality means that most countries in the region obtain connectivity from several different sources beyond Russia. This situation has created some interesting patterns in filtering behavior, such as similar content becoming inaccessible across several different countries, but with different filtering patterns amongst content providers within any single country. ONI research into this phenomenon is still preliminary, and thus we are not yet in a position to provide conclusive evidence or observations on its implications.
However, preliminary indications suggest that providers reselling connectivity to CIS countries may be providing pre-filtered access, passing on filtered content either as part of their service offering or as a consequence of the policies they use to manage traffic on their own networks. This form of blocking, which we have dubbed “upstream” filtering (indicating that the filtering is happening in a jurisdiction other than that of the state in question), was first observed during ONI testing in Uzbekistan in 2004. At that time the traffic of one Uzbek ISP was clearly filtered using a pattern similar to that employed by Chinese ISPs. Further investigation revealed that the Uzbek ISP was buying connectivity from China Telecom, which in this case may have sold access to its network as it would to a regular Chinese client. Our 2006 testing suggested similar patterns of prepackaged filtering affecting Internet services within several other CIS states where ISPs had purchased their connectivity from a Russian provider.
The CIS region is experiencing a general trend toward greater regulation and control of the national information space, which includes the Internet. Although most CIS countries do not practice the substantive or pervasive filtering—Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan excepted—Internet content control through regulation or intimidation is growing throughout the region. In most cases, the legislative and judicial framework for filtering (or other restrictions) is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Moreover the laws are often unevenly applied, with “flexible” implementation often paired with other more subtle (but effective) measures designed to promote self-restraint (or self–censorship) of both ISP providers as well as content producers. Information control—in particular the protection of national informational space—is clearly an issue of concern throughout the CIS, and has encouraged more stringent attention to telecommunications surveillance (as has been happening in other parts of the world, most notably the United States). In addition, measures to protect regimes in power and stifle opposition are often couched in the language of “national security,” and have resulted in the development of new measures and techniques aimed at temporally "shaping" access to information at strategic moments, such as “event-based filtering.” Another innovation that merits further investigation is “upstream filtering.” Although these new measures are not present in all CIS countries, they are indicative of a new seriousness with which strategies for information control are being developed.
In 2007 a number of critical elections will take place in Russia and several other CIS countries. In the Russian case, exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky has expressed his intent to overturn the existing regime. The Internet and other forms of communications technologies are expected to play an important role in the electoral process, and as such they will no doubt be the object of many actors’ attention.
Last, the re-emergence of stronger states in the region following more than a decade of transition, and general unhappiness concerning U.S. policies in the region (which have, over the past ten years, promoted media freedom and an active if foreign-funded civil society), is also sparking a degree of “blow-back” and renewed competition between East and West. For example, ONI research found that many “.mil” sites are not reachable in the CIS, suggesting that these may be subject to “supply-side” filtering by U.S. authorities.19 Between greater assertiveness on the part of CIS states and the stimulus of renewed interstate competition, the CIS is a region to watch as a global actor shaping norms that will govern the Internet into the future.
Authors: Rafal Rohozinski, Vesselina Haralampieva
§ 1.The CIS consists of eleven countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan has been an associated member since 2005. With a strong political and economic influence over its neighboring countries, Russia remains the predominant political actor and strategic economic power in the group.
§ 2.Turkmenistan’s Internet is even more tightly restricted, with access available only via a single government provider. While our lack of test results do not allow us to conclusively map the extent of filtered content, preliminary analysis indicates that the approach taken by Turkmen authorities is similar to that of Myanmar, employing a "white list" that allows only permitted sites to be visited.
§ 3.Internet users in the CIS are predominantly young, aged between fifteen and twenty-five. Around 55 percent of all users in Azerbaijan belong to this age group, compared with 60 percent in Kyrgyzstan and similar percentages in Uzbekistan. The number of women using Internet in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is equal to or larger than the number of their male counterparts. The proportion is slightly in favor of men in Ukraine, while in Tajikistan only 22.5 percent of the Internet users are women.
§ 4.See International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Indicators 2006.
§ 5.In Kazakhstan 28.4 percent of users access Internet at home, and 27.5 percent in Azerbaijan. The workplace is also a critical access point in Kazakhstan (27.2 percent), Moldova, Belarus, and Uzbekistan. In contrast, cybercafés in Kyrgyzstan are the main Internet access point in the country (for approximately 57 percent of users).
§ 6.Rafal Rohozinski, “Mapping Russian cyberspace: Perspectives on democracy and the Net,” United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) Discussion Paper 115, October 1999. Available at unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/ public/documents/UNTC/UNPAN016092.pdf.
§ 7.Alena Ledeneva, How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 2006.
§ 8.Doctrine of the Information Security of the Russian Federation, September 9, 2000, No. Pr-1895,http://www.medialaw.ru/e_pages/laws/project/d2-4.htm.
§ 9.See http://www.libertarium.ru/libertarium/37988.
§ 10.See http://www.iworld.ru/magazine/index.phtml?fnct=page&p=93433812, (last accessed April 10, 2007).
§ 11.See http://www.libertarium.ru/libertarium/14424/def_article_t?PRINT_VIEW=YES andhttp://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19990726S0003 (last accessed April 1, 2007).
§ 12.The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), passed in 1994 (Pub. L. No. 103-414, 108 Stat. 4279).
§ 13.Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001, (H.R.3162), http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c107:H.R.3162.ENR.
§ 14.Article 23 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-01.htm.
§ 15.See http://www.worldpoliticswatch.com/article.aspx?id=416.
§ 16.Interview with Andrei Richter, Director, Media Law and Policy Institute, Moscow State University, in Moscow, Russia, March 28, 2006; Interview with Alexey Simonov, President, Glasnost Defense Foundation, in Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2006.
§ 17.See “Election monitoring in Kyrgyzstan,” ONI Special Report, February 15, 2005,http://www.opennetinitiative.net/special/kg/.
§ 18.See "The Internet and elections: The 2006 presidential election in Belarus," ONI Internet Watch 001, http://www.opennetinitiative.net/belarus/.
§ 19.The inaccessibility of U.S.military Web sites was not limited to the CIS region but was also observed in numerous countries around the world. Future research will focus on this issue of filtering that is carried out by Web site hosts based on geolocation.