Hacker using laptop. Lots of digits on the computer screen.

By: Nick Gambino

It’s official, virtual private networks (VPNs) are now illegal in Russia. Thanks a lot, Obama. (Are we still using that joke?)

In all seriousness, this new law is yet another step toward dismantling freedom of speech and censoring an entire people. Vladimir Putin signed this into law back in July. The law, in a nutshell, forces internet providers to block all websites that offer the ability to access a VPN.

A VPN, for the layman, is a private network that allows users to access the internet in a secure, encrypted fashion as opposed to jumping online through public Wi-Fi. By banning the use of VPNs and other types of internet proxy services, they hope to curtail the spread of extremist content. In other words, anything that can be interpreted as anti-Russia or the state’s agenda.

This is how many Russians have been able to protect the content of their internet activity from the government. Without this protection, they are vulnerable to spying and surveillance.

“Anonymity protects the rights of internet users and freedom of expression online,” Yulia Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch said. “These laws negatively affect the ability of tens of millions of Russians to freely access and exchange information online.”

In recent years, actions like this have continued to paint a picture of a Russia not unlike the Soviet Union. A country interested in censorship and stripping of basic individual rights to forward a nationalist agenda.

As the law went into effect, Human Rights Watch noted that they have reported on this progression in recent years. “Human Rights Watch reported that the authorities have unjustifiably blocked thousands of websites and prosecuted dozens of internet users for expressing their views on ‘sensitive’ topics, including LGBT issues, Russia’s intervention in Syria, and the armed conflict in Ukraine.”

This is merely a cautionary tale on a country’s leadership touting a nationalist view. Country before humanity. What a scary thought.


Nick Gambino is a regular script writer and tech beat reporter for NewsWatch. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.