The Russian government has blocked six virtual private network (VPN) providers ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections. The move is intended to strengthen the government’s grip over the proliferation and dissemination of information in the age of disinformation.
The six VPN services blocked from use by Russia’s federal internet regulation agency Roskomnadzor include the very popular ExpressVPN and NordVPN services. Other services included in the ban are IPVanish, Speedify VPN, Hola! VPN and KeepSolid VPN.
Announcing the ban, Roskomnadzor stated that the bans were justified because they enabled users to circumvent existing state censorship protocols “to access prohibited content such as child pornography, and narcotic drugs,” according to TechRadar.
Bloomberg reports that the ban on VPN services come amid the country’s tightening of guidelines for tech companies. Both Google and Apple have run afoul of the communications watchdog’s regulations, which is expected to hold them guilty of election interference if they fail to remove an app by Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic.
Russia has ramped up its attempts to control access to information in the run-up to parliamentary elections this month, deeming numerous independent media groups as “foreign agents” subject to punitive restrictions and regularly fining international platforms including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. for failing to remove content flagged as illegal.
VPNs help circumvent restrictions on internet traffic and provide users with anonymity and greater security. Roskomnadzor said it has created a “white list” for software and apps that use VPNs for technical reasons that will be allowed to continue.
“Plans to block VPNs are just another move to strengthen governmental control over online communications,” NordVPN told Bloomberg in a statement, noting that Russia can ban websites and services without a court order.
In 2019, NordVPN destroyed its servers in Russia after the federal government demanded access to their private data. The company says it intends to continue providing its service to Russians “through available channels” but did not clarify how it intends to do so.