By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MINSK, Belarus – Recent legislation passed by Belarus will now give the federal government monitor the internet use of its citizens.
The decree, set to take effect on July 1, requires that the nation’s internet providers save all data concerning the websites visited by internet users in the nation for one year. Upon request, that information must be turned over to law enforcement agencies. Internet providers also will have to restrict access to any website that the government chooses.
National security concerns were the impetus for the legislation, according to Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko. “To ensure the security of the state and it’s citizens,…Internet service providers will be required to identify devices used to connect to the Internet and keep information on those devices and the services provided.”
Criticism from the larger European community has called the decree a restriction of individual freedom. Lucia Morillion, of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), commented that “whatever…president [Lukashhenko] is calling this decree, it is not done to improve the situation of Internet freedom in the country.” Another response from the RWB declared that Belarus had “[fallen] to the level of North Korea and China…as an enemy of the Internet.”
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) was also quick to condemn the legislation, which will give the government greater control over what has been one of the few remaining arenas of free speech in the Eastern European country. “It is complete control of information” said Andrei Bastunets, deputy chairman of the BAJ.
Belarus has long been criticized by international press watchdog organizations for the government’s extensive control over the country’s media. There are currently no independent television or radio stations, and virtually all of the remaining opposition newspapers have been shut down by the government.
The recent internet legislation is likely to further damage the recent attempts by Belarus to become part of the larger European economic and political community. President Lukashenko, who was re-elected to office in 2006 by results that were disputed by opposition groups in Belarus, has held the office since 1994. Recent efforts by the President to gain better relationships with Europe has shaken the long-standing relationship that Belarus has traditionally had with Russia.
For more information, please see:
RADIO FREE EUROPE – EU Calls Belarusian Internet Decree ‘A Step In Wrong Direction’ – 4 February 2010
AFP – Opposition attacks Belarus Internet crackdown – 2 February 2010
DEUTSCHE WELLE – Belarus to further tighten Internet control – 2 February 2010