Knowledge is power: How the Kremlin controls the Russian internet [book review]

THE Soviet Union was “the prison of information” and Vladimir Putin’s Russia risks becoming one too. That is the grim message of “The Red Web”, a well researched and disturbing book by two brave Russian authors. Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan caught global attention with “The New Nobility”, an earlier book on the caste of spooks and strongmen who run Russia.They have now turned their attention to the Kremlin’s control of electronic information. Even before Mr Putin rose to power, internet-service providers had to install (at their own expense) snooping devices, in what the authors prove was a direct continuation of the Soviet KGB’s mammoth phone-tapping efforts. Whereas in the West, communications companies typically co-operate with the authorities when a judicial warrant identifies a target, in the Russian system the surveillance was like a dragnet.When in the Kremlin, Mr Putin, an ex-KGB man who once termed the fall of the Soviet Union a catastrophe, wrested control of television from the oligarchs, turning their corrupt but lively channels into docile sounding-boards. But for more than a decade Russia’s internet remained broadly free. Only when social media became central to organising opposition activity did the authorities begin to intervene.

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