Russia Prohibits Anonymous Access To Public Wi-Fi

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed an order prohibiting unidentified access to Wi-Fi in public places.

anonymous access

Photo: blvdone / Shutterstock

As a result, anonymous access to public Wi-Fi is restricted, and anyone wanting to connect will have to register with a personal ID, although the affected public areas are not clear at the moment.

Access will be given only after users enter their full name when prompted, and confirm it by personal identification. In addition, hardware (the device being used to connect to public Wi-Fi) must also be identified.

Izvestia and other news outlets say that operators of public Wi-Fi hotspots will need to record identifiers of the devices that are connecting to the web, along with ID or driver’s license and full names of the users. They will need to hold this information for six months and pass it to the authorities when required – and they themselves will need to register as a ‘personal data operator’ with Roskomnadzor, the telecoms regulator in the country.

Nikolai Nikiforov, Communications Minister, said that asking for ID from internet users was a normal process.

“Identification of users (via bank cards, cell phone numbers, etc.) with access to public Wi-Fi is a worldwide practice,” tweeted Nikiforov.

Izvestia quoted Vadim Dengin, deputy chair of parliament’s information technology committee:

“It’s about security. An information war is under way. Anonymous access to the internet in public areas allows illegal activities to be carried out with impunity.”

The move was approved earlier in the week by government order, adding to the series of measures that have been taken in the country to tighten internet regulation. While some European countries have been placing similar sanctions, the application in Russia is more worrisome according to civil-rights advocates.

There have been regulations imposed on bloggers in the country and on offshore storage of data as well. A law passed on August 1 requires Russian bloggers with more than 3,000 followers to get registered with the government and follow the same rules as imposed on media outlets. And websites are required to store their data on Russian servers from 2016 – a move that many believe could cut off Russian people from many global online services.

Russian program director at Human Rights Watch Tanya Lokshina said:

“If you look at it in in the context of everything else that has been going on in the area of Internet regulation in Russia lately—the blogger law, the ban on keeping data of Russian Internet users on foreign servers— this is perceived as a threat by the Russian Internet community.”

The purpose of these regulations is to make sure no one breaks Russia’s restrictive Internet laws. MP Vadim Dengin – the same guy behind the bill asking the personal data of Russian citizens to be stored in Russian data centers – said that the clampdown of the public Wi-Fi was related to the ‘information war’ against the United States.

“Those interested in destabilization are trying to saturate the web with crooks, fascists and extremists. Everything connected to the internet must have identification,” Dengin spoke, according to a translation by Global Voices.

Internet companies, however, know little about the new law. Head of Russian Electronic Communications Sergei Plugotarenko said:

“It was unexpected, signed in such a short time and without consulting us.”

“The requirement for businesses to declare who was using their Internet networks would be the “biggest headache,” he stated. “We will hope that this restrictive tendency stops at some point because soon won’t there be anything left to ban.”

Initially, Izvestia reported that the Wi-Fi registration requirement is going to apply broadly, and would include hotspots at restaurants and public parks. But the Moscow Times later quoted Artyom Yermolayev, head of information and technology in Moscow, as saying that the requirement would apply roughly to Russia’s 20,000 ‘collective access points’ to connect to Wi-Fi, apparently at post offices, and that at restaurants and public parks won’t be affected.

But deputy head of the parliament’s information police committee Leonid Levin gave different views on the new law according to the Wall Street Journal.

“It will affect all public places. What’s is the point of creating laws that provide only half measures?” Levin told WSJ, “The point is to make sure that people who use public Wi-Fi are responsible for the actions they choose to take online without creating additional difficulties for the users,” Mr. Levin concluded.

“No one will have to show their passports to anybody,” Levin said. “The identification process will consist of getting a password for Wi-Fi access by providing your mobile phone number. Since providing a passport is required to buy a SIM-card in Russia, there will be no need to show your passport.”