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14 Mar 2022

Human Rights Watch

Tech companies withdrawing from Russia should carefully assess how their actions may contribute to eradication of remaining online freedoms, says HRW

Russia: With tech firms pulling out, Internet spiraling into isolation, 14 March 2022

Several leading foreign tech companies have withdrawn from Russia or suspended operations...since Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine, exacerbating the risk of isolation from the global internet for the country’s residents.

Withdrawals of tech companies come at a time when Russian authorities have doubled down on the use of their “sovereign internet” technology to block access to numerous independent media and social media platforms. Such technology potentially enables Russia to put the entire country in digital isolation. Foreign tech companies and governments should carefully assess how their actions may contribute to the eradication of the remaining online freedoms in Russia and take steps to mitigate undue restrictions based on their human rights responsibilities and obligations...

Since February 24, Russian authorities have blocked numerous Russian and foreign media outlets, including Echo of Moscow, Dozhd, Meduza, and BBC Russian Service over their coverage of the war in Ukraine...

In the meantime, companies should adhere to their human rights responsibilities and take steps to mitigate adverse human rights implications of any decisions they make to go beyond what’s required by governments’ sanctions.

“Russian civil society has been pushing back on its government’s efforts to censor and isolate the internet for years,” Williamson (Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch) said. “Foreign tech companies and governments should carefully evaluate how their actions could play into the hands of the Kremlin by contributing to increasing isolation of Russian internet users.”

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