Blocked reality: From protection to censorship

Author : Volodymyr Pylypenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Recently, the legislative initiative No. 6688 "On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regarding Information Security of Ukraine" was introduced into the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada
11:15, 2 July 2018

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Unjustified and unreasonable restriction of such human rights as the right to freedom of speech and the right to access to information is a violation of Ukraine’s Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Protection of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Such interference is illegal irrespective of how it is carried out: through the prohibition of a printed publication, the prohibition of the release of a political talk show, or by blocking Internet resources.

Related: Sanctions against Russian sites introduced for political censorship, - InAU

In addition, it is very easy to cross the line in the developing democracies: from the defense of national interests to the "massacre of those who are not wanted" and the narrowing of freedom of speech.

In the conditions of Ukrainian politics, these risks are no less dangerous, but now they are still relevant.

Recently, the legislative initiative No. 6688 "On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regarding Information Security of Ukraine" was introduced into the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada. The essence of it is to block Internet resources under certain conditions.

Considering that the authors of the bill are coalitionists from Poroshenko’s Bloc and National Front, there is a high probability that by the end of this session the parliament would vote for it.

So, the draft law proposes that the decision on temporary blocking of access to the information resource should be taken by an investigating judge or a judge within the framework of criminal proceedings. However, in exceptional cases, such blocking might be initiated before the court makes a decision, with a decision of the prosecutor or a resolution of the investigator agreed with the prosecutor for a period not exceeding 48 hours. The basis for such a step is the dissemination of information, which is used for serious or particularly serious crimes.

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In general, there is a logical point here. The entire civilized world is fighting against piracy. In addition, there are many resources that promote violence, racial intolerance, calls for war and terrorism. It is about the information protection of Ukrainian citizens, an integral part of the country's national security.

However, the very procedure for ensuring this security needs to be improved. And here experts have questions about the quality of proposals, written in the draft law number 6688.

The document contains significant shortcomings. In particular, there are not properly regulated cases, procedures, and conditions for the application of restrictive measures.

In connection with the changes in the Criminal Code of Ukraine, the blocking of a certain information resource is carried out by the court in the manner prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Code (CPP). But the changes in the Criminal Procedure Code define only the procedure for temporarily blocking access to a certain information resource, and the mechanism of complete blocking in the project is not regulated.

The authors suggest that in urgent cases (related to saving lives and preventing the commission of a serious or particularly serious crime) the resources might be blocked without a respective court decision. In fact, there are considerable risks of abuse.

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The wording "urgent cases" is very vague and uncertain. It can be applied situationally. There are no guarantees that this will not lead to the violation of the rights of owners or administrators of online platforms.

Therefore, in this situation, it is more reasonable to restrict access to the information resource only on the basis of a court decision. Then it will be possible to exclude a number of frank speculations. 

Despite the fact that the draft refers to the possibility of "temporarily blocking access to certain information resources," there is no minimum or maximum time limit for such blocking.

This, for its part, can also lead to excessive and unreasonable abuse.

If we talk about Russian propaganda in Ukraine, opening fake websites that create information waves, this is really a problem and it needs to be solved. But we have special services, relevant SBU departments, which have all the capabilities and tools to deal with such a phenomenon and give a timely assessment of threats in the Internet space.

The information policy should be controlled by the state only where it is a question of anti-Ukrainian propaganda, inciting ethnic hatred, terrorism and the like. But political views and statements of citizens should not be pursued or limited.

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The law also provides that, before applying to the court for a temporary blocking of access to a certain information resource, the investigator or the prosecutor sends a warning to the owner or administrator of such a resource about the possibility of temporary blocking with the requirement to immediately stop the dissemination of information banned in Ukraine.

We can assume that in many cases, the cessation of the dissemination of data can be carried out without a court decision and the issue of the legality of the claims of prosecutors and investigators, that is only on the basis of their warnings. This can be used by the latter as a method of manipulation and censorship. Therefore, the norms of the bill, which determine the conditions under which access to a particular information resource may be limited (blocked), require clarification.

In addition, the draft law significantly increases the number of fines for committing offenses in the telecommunications sector and the use of radio frequency resources. Is it advisable to make such changes? It is more logical to explain in advance why the current fines are ineffective. However, such an explanation has not been presented.

It is clear that the issue of information security is a complex and global phenomenon. It is not limited to selectively blocking access to individual sites. There must be a very professional approach, weighed in order not to turn good intentions into violating rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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