Web blocks
The bill will be used to “completely prohibit” the use of anonymising software, sources saidiStock

Russia's state media watchdog, the Roskomnadzor, is reportedly drafting legislation that can be used to punish search engines, anonymising software and virtual private networks (VPNs) with fines and blockages if they fail to enforce web restrictions put in place by the government.

If passed, the bill could "completely prohibit" the use of anonymising software in Russia that can give access to blacklisted content. If technology companies or service providers fail to comply they may be shut down completely, several sources told Vedomosti this week (19 April).

The spread of VPNs – alongside software such as Tor – make it easy to navigate around domestic internet restrictions in Russia as they are able to re-route web traffic to proxy servers in other countries.

The Russian government, it seems, wants to end that.

Roskomnadzor reportedly said the proposals will curb the spread of banned information however it allegedly stressed that – currently – the use of VPNs is not considered a crime.

Vedomosti said officials are complaining such software is being used to "bypass the locks".

Search engines, including the Russia-based Yandex, may also be impacted by the legislation as the new bill intends to make them stop providing users with links to restricted content.

Failure to comply could result in fines of up to 700,000 rubles ($12,400, £8,000) per incident.

"We consider the assignment of such responsibilities to the search engines redundant," responded one Yandex representative, who remained anonymous.

The bill's authors are said to have included a clause that would give tech firms and VPN providers access to Roskomnadzor's list of prohibited websites so they can voluntarily include banned content in their own blacklists. Non-compliance will result in swift takedown, officials said.

"Naturally, we are against the dissemination of illegal content, but at the same time it should not violate the rights and freedoms of a citizen to access information," Sergei Grebennikov, director of the Regional Public Internet Technology Centre, noted during a conference this week.

"Yes, grey areas are used to commit illegal activities and distribute prohibited content using anonymising software, but this does not mean that bonafide users should suffer. It is important that bills do not violate the rights of users who choose to use the internet safely."

Western technology giants have long had a troubled relationship with Russia's strict media and telecommunications watchdogs. Most recently, social network LinkedIn was completely blocked after it allegedly failed to store data held on Russian citizens within the country.

According to the Moscow Times, one VPN called HideMy.name was recently targeted by officials after its domain was blocked for providing access to restricted websites. Vedomosti previously reported that more than 100 VPN services are currently blocked in Russia.