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.”


King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology unveils self-guided Black Shark boat at 38th GITEX Technology Week

The development of the Black Shark smart boat is part of a KACST initiative to localize and transform transport technology and logistics, to help achieve the aims of Vision 2030. (SPA)
Updated 20 October 2018
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King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology unveils self-guided Black Shark boat at 38th GITEX Technology Week

  • These trucks are equipped with electronic pairing technologies, which effectively improve the shipping and distributing of goods, reduce human error

JEDDAH: King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) has unveiled its Black Shark self-guided boat at the 38th GITEX Technology Week in Dubai. The vessel, which can carry out coastal surveillance and many other tasks, was developed in collaboration with Taqnia for Robotics and Smart Systems.
The development of the craft is part of a KACST initiative to localize and transform transport technology and logistics, to help achieve the aims of Vision of 2030.
The boat includes sensor systems that allow it to monitor and create a 3D map of a 200-meter area surrounding the boat, and automated control technology that gives it the ability to navigate independently and avoid collisions without human input. It can also be equipped with a flexible range of weapons, acting as a firearms platform that uses gyroscopic self-balancing technology. It has the ability to survey beaches at a range of 15 kilometers, in addition to accurately identifying its precise location with a margin of error of less than 20 centimeters using differential GPS, as well as specifying, monitoring and tracking targets.
The Black Shark also has long-range radar that covers up to 150 kilometers, and a telecommunication system to track its location, monitor its status and connect to multiple domains through command centers that allow wireless communication and remote control. It is fitted with a digital camera powered by electro-optic and infrared technology that can produce HD-quality video, and also has night vision capability.
As part of its initiative to develop transport technology and logistics, KACST has also worked on automated control technology, included self-driving heavy-duty trucks, with the University of California, Berkeley. These trucks are equipped with electronic pairing technologies, which effectively improve the shipping and distributing of goods, reduce human error, preserve resources, and reduce harmful emissions and fuel consumption.
The same technology can also, for example, transform a four-wheel-drive vehicle into a remote-controlled vehicle equipped with video cameras, infrared technology, a microphone and a control device wirelessly connected to a command center, where an operator can guide it using images from the video cameras.