There is the tip of the iceberg: the banning of foreign social networks, the blocking of news sites, legal proceedings for online likes or comments. And then there is the underground work, of a much larger scale, which aims to guarantee a “clean Internet”, according to the name of one of the secret programs developed by the Russian authorities.
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The details of this task are now known thanks to an investigation published simultaneously, Wednesday, February 8, by several Russian investigation sites, all in exile (Proekt, Mediazona, Agenstvo or Radio Svoboda, for the main ones). The investigation itself was made possible by the November 2022 hack of the internet oversight agency, Roskomnadzor. On this occasion, 700,000 emails and two million documents were recovered by Belarusian hackers who are members of an organization called Cyber Partisans.
On paper, Roskomnadzor is a banal administrative agency, responsible for distributing radio frequencies or ensuring compliance with laws protecting personal data. In reality, it has turned into a structure of control, censorship and even infiltration of entire segments of the Internet.
The first lesson to be learned from these leaks is the scale of the blockages operated since the start of the “special operation” in Ukraine: during the first nine months of the conflict, 150,000 Internet pages and publications on social networks were deleted, in particular concerning losses of the Russian army or the crimes it is accused of having committed in Ukraine. Access to 72 Russian media, 23 foreign media and 630 Ukrainian sites was also purely and simply blocked.
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As part of this monitoring work, Roskomnadzor agents also share some of their findings with other structures, such as the prosecutor’s office, the police or the FSB, the security services. To this end, thematic chats are used, with evocative names: “False information [sur l’armée] », « protest feeling », « destabilization », « foreign interference »…
In the same register, Roskomnadzor has also established lists of hundreds of journalists and bloggers, but also experts who usually talk to them. Many of the personalities listed in these lists are then designated as “foreign agents”. Other personalities, particularly from the world of culture, are also monitored in the same way.
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