- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Google risks being banned in Russia for linking to websites blacklisted by government regulators, the deputy director of Moscow’s internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, warned Wednesday.

Vadim Subbotin made the suggestion during an interview published by Russian media a day after Roskomnadzor fined Google 500,000 rubles, or roughly $7,500, for failing to filter certain sites.

“In case fines fail to make a foreign company change its ways, there is a chance that the legislation will be changed, which will make it possible to block access to Google in Russia,” Mr. Subbotin told Interfax.

“Blocking will be the toughest measure,” he added.

Roskomnadzor fined Google on Tuesday for allegedly violating legislation requiring search engines to filter content outlawed under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strict censorship regime, following through nearly two months since threatening sanctions.

“Under Russian law, search engine operators are obliged to exclude links to Internet pages with prohibited information,” Roskomnadzor said in a statement announcing the penalty. “To do this, they must connect to the federal state information system containing a list of such pages.”

Google did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Roskomnadzor sent notices in September to Google and its Russian competitors, Yandex, Sputnik and Mail.ru, asking the companies to connect to Moscow’s database of banned sites and to block them accordingly, Mr. Subbotin said. Google was the only search engine that did not comply with the request, he told Interfax.

The watchdog will impose additional fines on Google seeking the maximum amount allowed by law — 700,000 rubles, or roughly $10,540 — unless the company comes into compliance, Mr. Subbotin added.

Roskomnadzor was banned in Google for about three hours in 2017 for linking to an illegal gambling website.

“We are talking about child pornography, suicides, drugs, gambling, selling alcohol,” Mr. Subbotin said of the sites at the center of the latest dispute. “We are talking about extremism and terrorism. It is this information that is prohibited.”

Russia maintains some of the most restrictive internet rules in the modern world, according to international human rights groups, with Freedom House declaring in a recent report that internet freedom declined in the country for the sixth consecutive year.

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