VodafoneZiggo, T-Mobile and KPN will block the websites of RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik News from today. The internet providers confirm this to the NOS.
A week ago, the European Commission announced that the two Russian state media will be banned throughout the European Union. Twitter and Facebook then blocked their accounts for European users, and all Dutch television providers removed RT from their packages. If you also want to search for something on the RT or Sputnik sites via Google, you will not see any results. The same goes for Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
Internet providers were also mentioned in the measure, but in recent days there has been a lack of clarity about what exactly the providers should do. KPN, T-Mobile and VodafoneZiggo have now received a list of six domain names from the ACM. They’re going to block it now.
Criticism of blockade
The providers are not necessarily interested in that. “We have fundamental objections to blocking websites, but we are complying with the European decision,” a KPN spokesperson said. More critical voices are heard from the industry. “We don’t think this is our role at all,” says an insider from the provider world. “And it’s not an effective drug at all.” Internet providers like to see themselves as neutral conduits of information.
Blocking websites rarely happens: a legal battle has been fought for years over the blocking of torrent site The Pirate Bay. The Ministry of Economic Affairs speaks of a “drastic” decision, which has never happened before.
It remains a restriction of the freedom of expression, and it must be proportionate.
Internet lawyer Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius also thinks the step is far-reaching. “Whether this is a proportional means is not a foregone conclusion,” says Borgesius. “It remains a restriction of freedom of expression, and it must be proportionate.”
Civil rights organization Bits of Freedom is concerned. “We are also pleased that the European Union is reacting strongly to this war,” says Lotje Beek of that organization. “But is it really the intention that the European Council can limit access to information so easily?” The journalists’ union NVJ previously opposed the decision. Secretary Thomas Bruning called the blockade “an unwise move”, which would lower the EU “to the level of Russia”.
Yesterday afternoon, not all internet providers were convinced that they should block the websites, but lawyers tell the NOS that the text of the sanctions leaves little room for interpretation. The lack of clarity is broader than just in the Netherlands, yesterday the sites could still be visited in several EU countries.
Internet providers that do not comply with the blockade are committing a criminal offense, the Ministry of Economic Affairs warns, and the Public Prosecution Service will enforce it. Spokespersons for the Public Prosecution Service could not be reached for comment.
It is not yet clear how exactly the blockades should be implemented. If only the domain names of RT and Sputnik are blocked, the block is easy to bypass. When that happens at a deeper level, getting around is trickier, but still possible.
Circumvention can be done, for example, via a VPN provider, which routes internet traffic to a different location and can be used, among other things, to reach blocked sites. However, it is obvious that VPN providers must also prevent access to the site.
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