Russia's anti-privacy laws take aim at VPNs.
Russia's anti-privacy laws take aim at VPNs.

Russia's anti-privacy laws began taking effect October 1 – with another deadline on November 1 – just as the country pledged to block Facebook if the company refuses to store Russian citizens' data on Russian servers.

Laws under the earlier effective date enable faster blocking of all proxies and mirrors of banned websites – all without the sanction of the courts – and search engines won't be allowed to advertise the sites. 

After November 1, Russia will block VPN services, all of whom must register with the government, that are not in compliance with the laws.  If the VPNs fail to restrict access to blocked sites they will be shut down. 

“We stand for freedom of speech, and we feel it's our duty to provide Russian people with the access to thousands of websites that are currently blocked, including major sources of information. Reddit and Wikipedia have to remove the content that the government tells them to - or they will be blocked,” NordVPN said in a statement, noting that hundreds of thousands of people use the company's services to have “free and unrestricted access” to the Internet. “There are also websites of political dissent that are added to the blocked list, such as sites of Putin critics Gary Kasparov and Alexei Navalny. We believe that special targeting could be especially dangerous for political activists who are able to stay anonymous by using a VPN. We will continue to operate in Russia to the best of our technical abilities.”

Human Rights Watch quoted Russia's Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev as referring to the law as “madness” in an RBC interview. "All this goes against common sense. The bill refers to technologies that allow you to bypass the lock. First of all, this is VPN and anonymizers,” said Marinichev. “How will they separate the VPN that is used for commercial purposes from the VPN that is used to bypass the locks? This cannot be determined.”

Facebook has landed in the government's crosshairs as it's pressured to comply with a law signed by Russian President Vladmir Putin and which went into effect September of 2015. "Everyone needs to abide by the law. There can't be any exceptions here," Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov was quoted by Interfax as saying. "In 2018, everything will be as it should be for sure."

Earlier this week Facebook gave a broad overview of the content contained in the 3,000 ads that were placed on the social media site Russian Internet Research Agency during and after the 2016 election cycle and that were turned over to House and Senate intelligence committees in early September.