VPN law latest step in Kremlin online crackdown, experts say

Laws curbing Internet freedoms were drafted following mass protests in 2011 and 2012 against Vladimir Putin over disputed election results. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2017
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VPN law latest step in Kremlin online crackdown, experts say

MOSCOW: A law coming into force on Wednesday will give the Kremlin greater control over what Russians can access online ahead of a presidential election next March.
Providers of virtual private networks (VPNs) — which let Internet users access sites banned in one country by making it appear that they are browsing from abroad — will be required to block websites listed by the Russian state communications watchdog.
The law is the latest in a raft of restrictions introduced by President Vladimir Putin’s government and is expected to affect journalists and opposition activists, even though several VPN providers say they will not comply.
Videos by the punk band Pussy Riot and the blog of opposition leader Alexei Navalny have in the past been blocked under a law that allows authorities to blacklist websites they consider extremist.
“Journalists and activists who are using this to put out messages anonymously will be affected,” Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.
Even if they are able to work around the new restrictions, the law will send a powerful message to activists, she said.
“If you’re thinking about taking the steps that you need to stay anonymous from the government, you think maybe it’s not worth it.”
The law will likely be selectively applied and will probably not affect foreign business people using company VPNs, she said.
The measure is part of a wider crackdown on online communications, which this month saw the popular messaging app, Telegram, fined for failing to register with the Roskomnadzor communications watchdog and provide the FSB with information on user interactions.
Starting from 2018, companies on the Roskomnadzor register must also store all the data of Russian users inside the country, according to anti-terror legislation which was passed last year and decried by the opposition and Internet companies.
On Thursday, the Russian parliament’s lower house approved a draft law that would let the attorney general blacklist the websites of “undesirable organizations” without a court order.
While falling short of a blanket ban on virtual private networks, the new law undermines one of their key purposes and “essentially asks VPN services to help enforce Russia’s censorship regime,” Harold Li, vice president at ExpressVPN International, said by email.
“VPNs are central to online privacy, anonymity, and freedom of speech, so these restrictions represent an attack on digital rights,” Li said.
“We hope and expect that most major VPN services will not bend to these new restrictions.”
Providers ZenMate and Private Internet Access — which said it removed all of its servers from Russia in 2016 after several of them were seized by authorities without notification — have already announced that they would not enforce the list of banned websites.
Companies that do not comply are likely to see their own websites placed on the Russian blacklist.
Amnesty International has called the new legislation “a major blow to Internet freedom” and Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who lives in Russia, said the measure “makes Russia both less safe and less free.”
Laws curbing Internet freedoms were drafted following mass protests in 2011 and 2012 against Putin over disputed election results.
The new measures come into force ahead of presidential elections next March, when Putin is widely expected to extend his grip on power to 2024.
Russia’s opposition groups rely heavily on the Internet to make up for their lack of access to the mainstream media.
“The path that Russia chose four years ago is founded on the concept of digital sovereignty,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, lawyer and director of the Digital Rights Center.
“It’s the idea that the government should control the domestic part of the Internet. Western countries do not support this concept and so what we are seeing today is an Asian-style development of the Internet,” along the lines of China and Iran, he said.
But Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that even if the Kremlin’s end goal is “complete control of communications on the Internet,” its technical capabilities still lag way behind China with its “Great Firewall.”
Many of the invasive measures pushed by the Kremlin are comparable with the snooping powers demanded by Western governments, she said.
“Russia will frequently point to the fact that the FBI and (British Prime Minister) Theresa May want these powers as reasons why they should have them, and why they’re compatible with human rights.”


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.