15 October 2021, Friday, 23:23
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Controversial decree on Internet censorship signed (text of the document, updated)

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Controversial decree on Internet censorship signed (text of the document, updated)

The scandalous decree on national segment of the Internet has been signed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The decree is to come into effect on July 1.

The text of the draft decree appeared on the Internet in last December. It brought on criticism by the Belarusian media community and international human rights organizations, including OSCE. The draft decree met unambiguous estimation – the document is prepared to block uncomfortable for authorities pro-opposition Internet resources in Belarus.

The decree On Measures for Revising Use of the National Segment of the World Wide Web, signed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka on February 1, hasn’t undergone many changes. It contains the dubious norms that caused so many protests by journalists and human rights activists.

In accordance with the document, Internet resources in Belarus will be controlled in an order established by the Council of Ministers on agreement with a special service, the Operating and Analytical Centre under Lukashenka’s Administration (OAC). The Centre is also to control the country’s Internet service providers. The OAC “on agreement with the President of the Republic of Belarus” will define the list of “telecommunication operators, which have the right of direct access (interconnection) to international telecommunication systems, and authorized Internet service providers”.

Activity of a provider can be stopped on a decision of the Council of Ministers. The Operating and Analytical Centre will also be able to forbid access to the information illegal in accordance with the Belarusian legislation. The OAC will also control registration of .by domain names.

Internet users will also be controlled:

“Owners of places of collective use of the Internet or their representatives must identify Internet users in places of collective use of Internet services... Information about user devices, personal data on Internet users and information about the Internet services rendered must be submitted upon request of state bodies which carry out investigative activities, prosecution agencies, and preliminary investigation agencies.”

What concerns the state registration of the Internet resources, the decree says:

“State registration of information networks, systems and resources of the national segment of the Internet is to be carried out by the Ministry of Communication and Informatization or other authorized bodies on a request of an Internet service provider. “

“By July 1, 2010, firms and individuals must secure transfer to the information networks, systems and resources of the national Internet segment hosted in Belarus; Internet service providers must secure registration of such networks and systems.”

Item 11 of the decree causes great alarm: “If gross violations of the law, further violations of the Decree’s terms and other acts of legislation regarding the use of the national Internet segment are found within six months after issuing instruction to eliminate discovered violations, an Internet service provider can stop rendering Internet service to a firm or individual on a request of the bodies mentioned in part 1 of the item...

.. An internet service provider must fulfil a demand to stop rendering Internet services within 24 hours of the notice and inform about this the body that has issued the request within three days.”

Responsibility for posted information: “Responsibility for posting information in the national segment of the web is taken by persons who had posted (transferred) this information, and for violation of the requirements of the relevant governmental body issued under part 11 of this Decree: Internet service providers, owners (or their representatives) of public internet access centres”.

The decree comes in force since July 1, 2010.

“An attempt to get the Belarusian segment of the web under control has taken place. Generally speaking, all the provisions of the draft decree which had caused a great stir are included into the decree itself, the only difference being that obviously illiterate wordings were eliminated. On the surface, the document is aimed at “regulation” of online businesses: e-commerce, hosting services and internet service providers. Now entrepreneurs can be punished by suspension of rendering services d by them without a decision of the court. Stations of users’ identification are to exist as well. De facto, providers in Belarus would be required to have a system analogous to the Russian SORM (System for Operative Investigative Activities, or Lawfully Authorized Electronic Surveillance, LAES). It is also not clear what a blow would be delivered on Belarusian online newspapers by the government’s “fight” for authors’ rights. Using this decree, mot of Belarusian news websites can be closed under a plausible excuse. As expected, the Operating and Analytical centre (OAC) has been appointed responsible for the ByNet. In fact, the International gateway has been handed over from Beltelekom to f the OAC,” stated the editor-in-chief of Electroname.com website Fyodar Pauluchenka to the charter97.org, commenting on this decree.

Independent experts have no doubts that Lukashenka’s decree is primarily aimed at blocking oppositional websites during election campaign.

Such an opinion has been expressed in an interview to BelaPAN by a deputy chairman of the public association “Belarusian Association of Journalists” Andrei Bastunets. As said by him, there is no point in such a decree at all. For instance, the requirement for state agencies to make their activities more visible on the web could be called misinformation. The agencies which wanted to do so, had been doing it without the decree. And those who concealed information, would be able to continue doing so.

“As for copyright protection, Belarus has a law on Copyright and neighbouring rights’ protection, so there is no need to adopt a special decree for copyright on the web. The obligation to put hyperlinks to the source of information, which is written down in the decree now, also belongs to the Copyright and neighbouring rights law. The only thing which prevents author’s rights protection is a high cost of state duties for court trials,” Bastunets believes.

According to the expert, the most important part of the decree is a requirement to internet services providers to keep record and store information about internet services. “It allows monitoring traffic, rendered internet services, identifying users who regularly visit certain websites, for instance oppositional ones. It means control over information in the Internet,” Bastunets said.

We would like to add that the Belarusian Web as an island of relative freedom of thought and independent information could disappear very soon. You can face a situation when to access charter97.org website and other independent news websites would be impossible. But it is up to you, our readers, it depends on your determined actions, whether you would be able to win back freedom of Internet, that is, your own freedom.

FULL TEXT OF THE DECREE