The law banning VPNs: what do we need to know?

Publication date: 26 Feb 2024

On 1 March 2024, a ban on advertising VPN services will come into force in Russia. In accordance with Roskomnadzor’s order N 168 of 08.11.2023, websites containing propaganda on the use of VPN to access illegal information will be blocked.

  • What is VPN? The acronym stands for Virtual Private Network. It is a technology that allows individual connections on the Internet. There are different types of VPNs, but they all do one thing: encrypt information and connect the user through a chain of different servers located in different countries.

Which VPNs are banned in Russia?

Since February 2020, means of circumventing the blocking of access to illegal content have been banned.

However, as of 1 March, it is not only VPNs that provide access to blocked sites that are banned. Sites that distribute information about circumvention options themselves are also subject to blocking. In accordance with Roskomnadzor’s Order of 27.02.2023 N 25 “On Approval of the Evaluation Criteria for Materials…*”, the list of banned sites or individual pages may be included in the list if they

  • contain information on methods and means of circumvention
  • contain a description of action, i.e. provide instructions or explanations on how to access banned resources;
  • motivate the use of circumvention tools: endorse or justify these methods, list the benefits;
  • offer to purchase or download a “program for electronic computing machines”.

One of these criteria is enough to block a site.

If the site owner, hosting provider or telecom operator does not agree with the RKN’s decision, they can appeal to the courts. The time limit is 3 months at the latest.

Article 13.41 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation (CAO RF) provides for liability: a fine from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles for citizens; from 200,000 to 400,000 rubles – for officials; from 800,000 to 4 million rubles – for legal entities. It is possible to receive a fine for

  • Failure of a hosting provider or other person providing accommodation in information and telecommunication networks to take measures to restrict access to information, information resource or site on the Internet;
  • Failure by the site owner to remove information or a web page.

Russian legislation does not yet prohibit the use of VPNs by individuals.

From 1 March, Roskomnadzor also plans to block VPNs in all app stores (including Play Market and AppStore) if the services provide access to blocked resources.

Which VPNs are allowed in Russia?

As explained in the RKN, the blocking will not be applied “in relation to scientific, scientific-technical and statistical information on ways / methods of providing access to information resources, … access to which is restricted in the territory of the Russian Federation”.

Please note! For liability to arise, the VPN must be used to circumvent blocking and access prohibited information.

Therefore, VPNs used by companies for work, security and confidentiality of corporate information can work in the former mode.

List of documents on the VPN ban in Russia

  • The Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” dated 27.07.2006 N 149-FZ. It provides for the possibility of blocking information on means of circumventing restrictions on access to information prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation.
  • The Federal Law “On Amendments to the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection”” dated 29.07.2017 N 276-FZ. It prohibits the owners of anonymizers and VPN services from providing access to blocked information resources.
  • Article 13.41 of the Code of Administrative Violations of the Russian Federation “Violation of the procedure for restricting access to information, information resources, access to which is restricted in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation on information, information technologies and information protection, and/or the procedure for deleting the said information”.
  • *Roskomnadzor’s Order of 27.02.2023 N 25 “On Approval of the Criteria for Evaluation of Materials… and/or Information Required for Adoption by the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Communications, Information Technologies and Mass Media of Decisions Being the Grounds for Inclusion of Domain Names and/or Page Indicators of Sites in the Information and Telecommunication Network “Internet”, as well as Network Addresses Allowing to Identify Sites in the Information and Telecommunication Network “Internet”, in the Unified Automated Information System “Unified Register of the Internet””.
  • Roskomnadzor’s Order N 168 of 08.11.2023 amends this document and clarifies the criteria for assessing information on ways, methods of providing access to information resources, access to which is restricted in the territory of the Russian Federation.

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