The definition of truth, Russian style

Warning: this post is politically charged.

Russia has just enacted a law that forbids dessimination of “untruthful information” over the Internet. The actual legal definition is very lengthy, but it is quite broad and virtually irrelevant, as in practice it gives the government an opportunity to legally take down any information it does not like.

This is neither new nor specific to Russia, but an interesting twist is that the determiner of ultimate truth is… the Attorney General office of the Russian Federation. If I am reading the law correctly, the procedure is as follows: upon noticing untruthful information that may potentially threaten something important*, the Attorney General office informs the Communication Overseer Commission, which then orders the owner of the communication resource to take it down, or face consequences.

This is it: there is not even a court hearing. In theory, this allows the government to declare rumors that the Earth rotates around its axis dangerous to public order and forbid publishing this untruthful information under penalty of law. Of course, any government is capable of ignoring even very specific limits to its power: Russia learns from the best,

I thought American laws where, for example, “deadly weapon” may actually mean “a pillow” were too broad and overreaching. I stand humbled. There is something awe inspiring in giving the Attorney General’s office the official power to decide what is true and what is not. Perhaps that book should have been called “2019”…

*”Something important” is defined as a long list of things such as life, health, and property of the citizens, stability of public order, public safety, functioning of the industry, the energy sector, credit institutions (!), communication infrastructure, and the like. In practice any information may potentially [be declared to] negatively affect one or more of those items.

The original law (in Russian).

The modifications expanding it to “untruthful information that may potentially threaten something important” (also Russian).

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