Access to all foreign websites banned in Belarus

If you thought that America’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a backward, draconian step for free speech and the development of global digital economies, the Republic of Belarus intends to go one better.

From 6 January 2012, a law will come into effect making it illegal for citizens of Belarus to visit or use foreign websites; anyone breaking the law will be found to have committed a misdemeanour, and fined up to $125 USD (to put this into perspective, the average monthly wage in Belarus is approximately $208, as of December 2011). Companies and individuals will be forbidden from accessing websites, using email or webmail services, payment and transaction services, and other online activities, unless they are provided through domestic domains on homeland servers.

The Belarusian Government has made clear that its legislation isn’t just a technicality that will exist on paper alone. If a friend uses your computer, or if a neighbour piggy-backs on your home network, to access a foreign website via your connection, you will be held accountable and liable to prosecution. Internet cafés that fail to properly limit access to foreign websites will be subject to fines; if owners of internet cafés find users accessing foreign sites, but fail to report those users to the authorities, their businesses will be subject to closure.

According to the United States Library of Congress, the Government of Belarus has authorised its national police force, secret police agencies and tax authorities “to initiate, investigate and prosecute” any violations by individuals and organisations both domestic and foreign. If an international company such as Amazon makes a sale to a Belarusian citizen, the Attorney General of Belarus reserves the right to hold the company in contempt of the State, and may choose to sue the company. For this reason, many observers believe that multinational websites will simply block access to Belarus entirely, in order to avoid any such hassle or litigation, effectively shutting off Belarus from the digital world.

Speaking with the Computer Business Review, the Belarusian Embassy in London stated that the new legislation aims “to protect the rights of Belarusian citizens… to improve the quality of internet services and make them cheaper, and to encourage further growth of the national segment of the internet network.”

There’s nothing quite like protecting someone’s rights by taking their rights away. But perhaps it was inevitable in a country that constitutionally forbids censorship, but at the same punishes citizens with up to five years in prison for insulting its President, or up to two years in jail for speaking badly of Belarus abroad.

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47 Comments

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This story is simply not true! The interpretation is not correct. How do I know? I work with Belarusians. I go to Belarus.
The law change requires Belarusian companies to host their .by domain in Belarus. It does also allow for the banning of access to certain websites (the list of which the government control), like in China etc, but it does not ban ALL foreign websites.
You can argue this is restricting freedom of course, and that is true, however "All foreign websites banned in Belarus" is 100% untrue and the journalists involved need to check their sources.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but does this mean that it is now illegal to browse to sites that are outside of Belarus, yet there is no filter in place by Belarus to disallow it? They're just monitoring who does and fining them outrageous amounts? If so, this is more hair brained than just shutting off the entire internet... lol

Voice of Buddy Christ said,
No, they're monitoring who does, and throwing them in the gulags.

There are no gulags in belarus. Wake up, this is not 1940.

M_Lyons10 said,
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but does this mean that it is now illegal to browse to sites that are outside of Belarus, yet there is no filter in place by Belarus to disallow it? They're just monitoring who does and fining them outrageous amounts? If so, this is more hair brained than just shutting off the entire internet... lol

Sounds like you're understanding it perfectly. One of many problems I can see is what if you own an internet cafe and don't know what IP ranges are allocated to Belarus...better hope there are some good search engines based in the country...

Well, this is Belarus - they have almost caught up with North Korea as far as delirious, totalitarian regimes go...

II Wonder why, American Companies are supporting a system like this. How many American companies are registered in Belarus? I know a few!
I think that companies from the US directly support a dictatorship when they produce in Belarus!
What will be the next step?
Shall our government tolerate production in North Korea? Or is it ok to buy nice stuff from Iran?

If foreign websites are banned, how do they even activate their windows, or what linux distro will they still (be able to) download? I'm guessing the government was thinking that there is no real need for computers these days either

qdave said,
Way to check your sources neowin and spreading false news.

http://www.techdirt.com/articl...-are-still-pretty-bad.shtml

I don't see anything that directly contradicts this article. At best, it highlights possible ambiguity in the legislation, but their conclusions are based solely on *their* interpretations of the law. While they claim that there's nothing in the new legislation that makes visiting all foreign websites illegal, they concede that there are still legislative provisions for home users, cafés and businesses to be prosecuted for access to services on foreign websites; the ambiguity over what a "service" constitutes is the problem here as it allows the authorities to wrap a vague law around any decision to prosecute, rather than prosecuting because a defined law has been broken.

The interpretation is the issue here - and the nebulous language of the legislation, combined with machine translations, clearly aren't helping. But we did consult multiple sources on this - including the US Library of Congress, the BBC Monitoring Service, various research assets, as well as reviewing coverage from other sites, such as CBR, TNW and others - and we're not the only ones who came to the same conclusion.

It's good that Tech Dirt are presenting an alternative opinion, but theirs is not the definitive one, simply because there remains so much ambiguity and so many grey areas in how the law has been defined. Regardless of how you read it, the end result remains the same: either it's against the law to access foreign sites, or there is a clear and constant risk of being prosecuted for accessing or using vaguely defined "services" on foreign sites. The difference between "this act is illegal" and "this act is not technically illegal but we might still fine you under these legislative provisions" is fairly academic when it produces the same results.

nothing special really. it's all about disallowing making money using foreign resources. like making shop that is hosted abroad. it's not about closing access.

and amazon is a bad example. hardly anyone know about it in eastern europe.

coth said,
nothing special really. it's all about disallowing making money using foreign resources. like making shop that is hosted abroad. it's not about closing access.

Doesn't sound like it, "a law will come into effect making it illegal for citizens of Belarus to visit or use foreign websites".

thommcg said,

Doesn't sound like it, "a law will come into effect making it illegal for citizens of Belarus to visit or use foreign websites".

as i say - it's fake

All I can think is that perhaps they felt that people were shopping online instead of locally, helping to hold the economy down? I don't know.

Tuishimi said,
All I can think is that perhaps they felt that people were shopping online instead of locally, helping to hold the economy down? I don't know.

Doubt it - It's a dictatorship.

Looks like Belarus needs a regime change. Time for the people there to stand up and protest this crap.

Byter said,
Looks like Belarus needs a regime change. Time for the people there to stand up and protest this crap.
Or just do as the English and riot

So, how does this pertain to users contacting foreign servers for system updates, etc?

This is scary. This has to be a joke. It's a joke, right?

Dot Matrix said,
So, how does this pertain to users contacting foreign servers for system updates, etc?
LOL! I would bet they never thought of that. I could see it now, the government censors will say "No problem. Belarus will write its own updates." Makes sense right?

It would sure suck to get jail time for running Windows updates though.

yeoo_andy_ni said,
Just you wait and watch other places follow suit. China will be next.

seriously ..... u ar talking about same china that creates 3/4 of worlds electronic devices right??
of course they censor information . but censoring whole damn internet is pretty stupid for a raising economic giant like china

All I can say is... Wow! Please tell me they do not have a democratic process...

It does put things in perspective... wait... so I'm guessing that they cannot make phone calls outside the state either? How does this work... I cannot imagine living in a world like that... it is basically modern isolationism. Can any diplomatic pressures be put to use.

Wait - wait! Why even have a connection to the Internet... just cut it off... then there would be a state Intranet. I don't see the point to it even being available. That is like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit you did not feed for a day... just gave it water... and then punish it for eating the carrot that you put out within its reach... sigh... I'm depressed now...

So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly arise and make them miserable.
-- Aldous Huxley

Vice said,
Terrible.
I know, right?? Thoughts of North Korea came to mind. Nothing like closing your country off to the rest of the digital world to stimulate free thinking and economic growth.