Date of publication: 31 May 2018
Ruslan Mannapov, Lawyer
Against the epic battle of Roskomnadzor (RKN) with Telegram, another event related to Internet regulation unfolded almost invisibly. On 24 April Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the laws on protection of information and enforcement proceedings. These amendments provide for other grounds for the inclusion of Internet resources into the register of prohibited websites. From now on it will be possible to block them by virtue of the bailiff’s order to restrict access to information discrediting the honor, dignity or reputation of a citizen or the business reputation of a legal entity. Will the overloaded bailiffs help to protect honor and dignity is yet unclear – it’s a matter of actual practice. But it is quite obvious that the high and mighties are interested in that the discrediting information does not appear on the network. And here the new amendments will be of a big help.
The grounds for Internet resources blocking are provided for in the Federal Law No. 149 On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection. Until recently there were only few of them. The websites containing information prohibited for disseminated in Russia were blocked in the first place, for instance: child pornography, information about methods of preparation and administration of drugs, appeals for committing suicide, etc. The information was recognized as prohibited by the decision of executive bodies or court. The register also included web-resources which call for unrests, extremist actions or participation in unauthorized gathering, or which disseminate materials of foreign non-governmental organizations whose activities are recognized in Russia as undesirable, or which violate copyright and related rights.
When these prohibitions were not enough, probably the most universal reason for blockings was used – the illegal distribution of personal data. However, it was possible to enter the website in the register of violators of the rights of personal data owners only under the legal act that came into force. In addition, the disclosed information should have been truly personal by nature and with restricted access for the general public; it is only in this case that the access to the resource could have been promptly restricted.
However, there are many websites on the Internet with publicly available information that do not contain personal data as such, yet violate the rights and interests of a particular individual or entity, discrediting their honor, dignity and business reputation, with texts such as, for example, “Bank N steals money from its clients” or “Businessman N moves his assets abroad”, and it is quite difficult to deal with them.
In theory, any citizen has the right to require the removal of information that discredits his/her honor and dignity from the Internet, as well as the refutation of such information (Article 152 of the Civil Code). However, in practice even the issue of a court decision recognizing the disseminated information as discrediting the honor and dignity is a great step forward. Bringing such case to an end, i.e. achieving refutation and removal of the article, is rarely possible. The judges often fail to include in their decisions that information discrediting the honor and dignity is considered to be illegal, and the RKN, respectively, refuses to block websites based on such judgments. The situation with legal entities is a lot more complicated. The Personal Data Law does not apply to the companies, the blocking of access to information on general grounds is often impossible, and the Internet resource owner is often simply absent.
Hypothetically, both citizens and companies have long had the right to protect themselves in Russia and to suspend the spread of compromising information, even before a final court decision is passed – as an injunctive relief in the claim. But no legal norms, except for the position of the Constitutional Court expressed in 2013, were established, and the judicial practice was next to none. In fact, there was no mechanism to protect the honor, dignity and business reputation on the Internet.
Recently adopted amendments to the law on protection of information envisage a mechanism for the execution of court decisions, i.e., for ensuring the exercise of people’s constitutional rights to judicial protection. Now the inclusion of Internet resources into the register of prohibited websites can be ordered by the bailiff. The bailiffs, being guided by the court decisions, will initially provide a period for the voluntary removal of information discrediting the honor and dignity, and if that is not done, they will issue an order to restrict access to the website.
The bailiffs’ orders are sent to RKN within one business day and the RKN should immediately restrict access to the Internet resource. I.e., the suspension of dissemination of information discrediting honor and dignity should now take place more promptly. Until now, the website blocking by court decision took at least half a year, and about a week as an injunctive relief. Plus, another month for the RKN to execute the court decision, unless, of course, we are talking about requests filed by citizens like Oleg Deripaska, for instance.
Will the new law be really effective for the ordinary people and companies? It causes doubts, since the bailiffs are already overloaded enough, and the RKN is unlikely to act faster after the workload increases. However, we can definitely state that a huge new layer of practice is opening up for the lawyers, since it will now become easier to fight information discrediting honor and dignity. The new law will provide not only the mechanism for enforcing judicial protection. In essence, it will provide citizens and companies, which do not want any information about them to be disseminated, with a great tool to successfully avoid publicity.