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Belarus Makes Browsing Foreign Websites a Misdemeanor (loc.gov)
256 points by anigbrowl on Jan 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments



Title is quite wrong. In both cases there is _civil_ offense. Here are two main cases:

- Belarusian companies have to offer service from servers located in Belarus physically.

- Owners of internet-cafe have to identify all users so any connection could be tied to particular identity anytime.

I am not saying this is right, but for country like Belarus it is quite minor issue. I was almost excluded from university due my participation in opposition movement and know a bit about wire tapping phone lines (including mobile - have no clue how they do it actually).

I am glad it did to front page of HN. It means someone still bother what is going on there.. :)


Yeah, living in Belarus and participating in opposition movement, they told me at school that they're able to report about my political views (yeah, we're not free about that in Belarus) and exclude me.


From my reading, the title seems to be a mis-representation:

* Scratch that, the text notes a misdemeanor, is there no way to strike text on HN? ~~The offense is entirely civil, not criminal.~~

* Belarusians registered as entrepreneurs (individuals or companies) must provide their service to belarusians from a belarusian domain.

* Owners of internet cafés or other places providing internet access must restrict their access to belarusian domains or identify, record and report any access to a non-belarusian domain to the authorities.

* The law includes a provision for government-ordered blocking of banned websites by ISPs.

The note linked does not seem to specify any offense by citizens not registered as entrepreneurs and not business owners, although the second paragraph may hint at information missing from this note:

> The newly published Law imposes restrictions on visiting and/or using foreign websites by Belarusian citizens and residents. Under this new Law, the violation of these rules is recognized as a misdemeanor and is punished by fines of varied amounts, up to the equivalent of US$125. (Id.)

(immediately following this paragraph is the section on entrepreneurs in point 1)

As I can not read Belarusian, I can not assert the correctness of the english note linked or which informations are missing, I'm interested in corrections or more complete informations from native speakers.

edit: I seem to have missed a section of the second paragraph which, while it does not make the title any more correct, makes the law even more worrying: foreign internet use would not be a civil offense for belarusian citizens but being a foreign service used by belarusians in business contexts would be:

> It appears that business requests from Belarus cannot be served over the Internet if the service provider is using online services located outside of the country.


A misdemeanor is a criminal offense, even if it does not involve jail time.


The meaningfulness of that distinction assumes the rule of law.


To the second point: Not only domain, but all the hardware should be situated in Belaus.


Is that part of the original law which was not included in the translated note? Because the note linked here does not — as far as I can tell — make any mention of hardware.


Субъектам хозяйствования, осуществляющим деятельность по реализации товаров, выполнению работ, оказанию услуг на территории Республики Беларусь с использованием информационных сетей, систем и ресурсов, имеющих подключение к сети Интернет, следует обратить внимание: если эти сети, системы или ресурсы не размещены на территории Беларуси и (или) не зарегистрированы в установленном порядке, к субъектам может быть применено административное взыскание в виде штрафа от 10 до 30 базовых величин.

сети, системы или ресурсы mean networks, systems, or [hardware] resources.

It reads that networks, systems, or resources must be located in Belarus.


According to Google translate your quotation says:

Business entities engaged in activities on the sale of goods, works and services in the Republic of Belarus with the use of information networks, systems and resources with an Internet connection, you should pay attention: if these networks, systems or resources are not available on the territory of Belarus and (or) not registered in the prescribed manner to the subjects can be applied to an administrative penalty of a fine from 10 to 30 base units.


Google translate is wrong in one part. Rather than "... are not available on the territory of Belarus", "... если эти сети, системы или ресурсы не размещены на территории Беларуси" translates to "If these networks, systems or resources are not located on the territory of Belarus".

"Located" being the vital difference here.


Thank you.


I scrolled through the original text, I think that note is correct, citizens using internet in their home aren't restricted [yet].


> is punished by fines of varied amounts, up to the equivalent of US$125. (Id.)

Fines suggest a criminal, not civil, offences. Damages would suggest a civil offence.


This terminological difference is irrelevant when talking about country which doesn't use English language and has its own history of law systems.

Call those damages if you like.


seems like someone's lobbyist got what he was paid for. Something like this makes no real sense, unless you are an internet service provider(domain, hosting etc)


You're not right. There are no lobbyists in Belarus, but there is a president that rules for about 20 years already, doesn't want to leave the president place and likes restricting free people.


How about corruption or collusion, then?


Uhm, he's a dictator. So yes, by definition - this is just controlling the media.


Well, he could be a corrupt dictator or a honest one; which does not mean nice, just that he tries to treat his subjects fairly according to some rule or ideology. Lobbying exists in dictatorships too I just guess it is generally not as frequent as in western democracies.


I only add that "Owners of internet cafés or other places providing internet access must restrict their access to belarusian domains" is a complete lye. Cafes are only recording IDs of users, and that's it. So, noone would be able to conduct crime onlime from public internet. This article is yet another piece of stupid propaganda we already used to from the 'democratic' countries.


OK, I see you're from Belarus too, like me. Yeah cafes are recording only ID but they will get banned if they do not restrict access to the internet.

> Административное взыскание в виде штрафа (в размере от 5 до 15 базовых величин) может налагаться на должностных лиц пунктов коллективного пользования интернет-услугами (компьютерные клубы, интернет-кафе, домашние сети и иные места, в которых обеспечивается коллективный доступ пользователей интернет-услуг к сети Интернет) при нарушении законодательных актов об идентификации абонентских устройств и пользователей, по учету и хранению сведений о них, а также об оказанных интернет-услугах.

BTW, as of your 'propaganda'. Do you think our gov't has ever been fair at least for 1 second? They violate their own laws, they violate our rights, c'mon.


Considering your feelings and how you feel about uttering them online, have you considered getting the fuck out of there?

Get to European soil and ask for asylum. It is not much, but at least it is better than Belarus.


Yeah, I wanna get out of there as soon as possible. To US, Canada, Australia, Germany, or even Poland. The heck is I'm only 15 and can't move myself; my parents appear to be OK in here.

Anyway I will not spend even a day here after I'm 18. I gonna work for some cool startup also.


I'm from Belarus myself, moved to United States when I was 13 with my family.

Be careful though, to immigrate to the United States on an H1 (work visa), you need a university degree. I'd suggest either trying to immigrate to Europe (any EU country) and getting a degree there, getting a degree in Belarus, or perhaps going to the United States as a foreign student.

[Edit: s/college/university/ -- college is an American term. My fifth grade English teacher in Belarus must be angry at me for forgetting Queen's English that I was taught :-)]


My grandfather left what's now Belarus with his mother and several siblings (their father and oldest brother had left earlier) in 1914 and came to the United States. Every time I hear anything about Belarus I'm thankful that they did this. Good luck getting out, and welcome to the US if that ends up being your destination!


Oh, youth!


You're going to have a fairly hard time getting asylum unless you can show political persecution of yourself (unfortunately simple overall tyranny does not count).


Nitpicking: technically Belarussia is as much European soil, as Germany.


Geographically, yes, politically it is very, very far from the rest of Europe.


He meant the Eurozone, I think, and it is definitely outside the Eurozone.


Or he meant European Union, which is not the same thing as Eurozone, nor Europe. Anyway - this is nitpicking.


You quote in Russia have nothing to do with 'restricting access' to the Internet. I don't care about gov's propaganda, because I am free. I don't own a TV, I don't read newspapers, so they can't reach me.


Umm, pretending it's not there doesn't make it go away. That doesn't work in "democratic countries" either.


The english note says something quite different, as to the part you wrote it appends that businesses can alternatively identify, record and report all access to non-belarusian domains.


That's how my country got to the top of Hacker News.


Can anyone explain why they implemented this law for those of us with little-no knowledge of Belorussian politics?


Basically the cold war never ended for Belarus. It is the last dictatorship in Europe, the secret police is still called the KGB and they very much oppress their citizens.

It is not as closed as North Korea, but it also isn't exactly the kinda place where you would go vacationing.

There has been no indication of an Arab Spring situation, but there have been a few widely reported protests (and oppression of the people involved) they may just be widely reported because they were done by women with no tops.

As for why they do this? Because if you are a dictator and want to stay that way, you avoid and control everything that can challenge your power.


One should also remember that Belarus was the least affected by the collapse or USSR, consistently maintaining the best social and economic conditions: the biggest effective gdp/person after oil-rich Russia, gini, education reach, smallest child mortality, best life span among cis countries.

Even while it's a small country with no mineral resources, bad climate and no love from the West.

This is going to change, tho, because it was hit hard by the recession and clumsily moving central bank; money inflated 3x in the last year.


> the biggest effective gdp/person after oil-rich Russia

I assume you mean among countries that was part of USSR? Not exactly:

Estonia 18,527 Lithuania 17,235 Russia 15,612 Latvia 14,504 Belarus 13,874

Not to mention countries that have been soviet sattelites like Hungary (18,841), Poland (18,981), or Czech Republic (24,950).

To be fair Belarus could still do much worse - for example like Ukraine (6,698).

Data from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_...


I mean among CIS countries. Baltic states are different thing.

Russia has much bigger GINI which offsets the difference.


The secret sauce was the cheap oil and natural gas from Russia which had been effectively subsidizing Belorussian economy in exchange for the anti-western rhetoric of its president.


It doesn't matter. What matters is that KGB is still called KGB. Our western friends no doubt are going to setup colorful clusterfuck like they did it in Georgia/Ukraine/Egypt/Tunis. Without doubt it will happen if it will pass in Russia.


> It is the last dictatorship in Europe...

I don't know if this qualify as a consolation, but Hungary is making huge strides on the way to dictatorship too.


I bet there were many reasons, but it boils down to being able connect virtual entity to a physical entity. No matter if this is competing business, or this is opposition reporter.

Officially they say they use it to prevent illegal activity. But in reality government just want to know who doing what in internet.

ps: in this sense it quite similar to all recent USA bills and "this is to protect our children" moto :))


Belarus is one of the last authoritarian regime in Europe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarus#Politics


I can describe you actual Belarusian politics (as it is in real life, not in papers): "you're not free". Now it becomes that in _both_ life and papers.


From the linked to article:

>As stated in an explanatory note published together with the Law, this act was issued to implement the Decree of the Belarusian President of February 1, 2010, on Improvements to the Usage of the National Segment of the Internet.

This appears to mean that the official justification for the law is to promote national providers of internet services. The most cogent consequence is that it becomes practicable to control the internet speech of most Belorussians.


According to some fellow Belorussians of mine, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four should explain it quite accurately.


I came across an article about the Belarus dictatorship back in November, on Reddit. It's a pretty interesting read:

Belarus, the land of no applause (http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/belarus-land-no-a...)


The title is outright lying in action. The law being cited only talks about civil offences. Didn't see anything about criminal offence.

The law in question seems to be vague, stupid and prone to interpretations, but that doesn't make lying right.


"The tax authorities, together with the police and secret police, are authorized to initiate, investigate, and prosecute such violations."

This sounds like criminal prosecution, no?

Edit: or maybe just a bad/misleading translation.


Субъектам хозяйствования, осуществляющим деятельность по реализации товаров, выполнению работ, оказанию услуг на территории Республики Беларусь с использованием информационных сетей, систем и ресурсов, имеющих подключение к сети Интернет, следует обратить внимание: если эти сети, системы или ресурсы не размещены на территории Беларуси и (или) не зарегистрированы в установленном порядке, к субъектам может быть применено административное взыскание в виде штрафа от 10 до 30 базовых величин.

Didn't see anything about secret service in the law. But административное means civil in Russian. Criminal would be уголовное.


Second lie: the cited law says nothing about individuals being liable. It says, that if you sell or provide services in belarus then your hardware should be located there.

The problem is, of course, that everything is a service. webmail? service. wikipedia? service! or not? interpretation.

And also that cloud hosting is pervasive yet becomes useless. It's stupid but still you should not lie.


edit: don't downvote guard-of-terra, according to goshakkk's comment [http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3416018] the english note is incomplete and guard-of-terra is correct that this affects "networks, systems, or [hardware] resources"

> Second lie: the cited law says nothing about individuals being liable. It says, that if you sell or provide services in belarus then your hardware should be located there.

Can you read the law in the text? The english note only talks about domains:

> only domestic Internet domains for [...]

Furthermore, this is only a constraint for belarusians providing services in/to belarus:

> The Law requires that all companies and individuals who are registered as entrepreneurs in Belarus

> The problem is, of course, that everything is a service. webmail? service. wikipedia? service!

Essentially all internet communication yes, there's a (non-exhaustive, I assume) list:

> for providing online services, conducting sales, or exchanging email messages.

> And also that cloud hosting is pervasive yet becomes useless.

Yes it looks like there's a blanket ban on using services external to belarus if there's a business transaction involved:

> It appears that business requests from Belarus cannot be served over the Internet if the service provider is using online services located outside of the country.

although it's not clear whether the offense would be put on the user or on the service provider. The final paragraph hints it would be the latter.


The Law states that this provision may apply to private individuals if they allow other persons to use their home computers for browsing the Internet.

I can't read Russian, but a machine-translated version of the official notice (linked in the article) also mentions home use.


Can you provide a quote that caught your eye? I'll try to figure it out.


http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&js...

Administrative penalty of a fine (ranging from 5 to 15 basic units) may be imposed on officials of the centers for collective use of the web services (computer clubs, Internet cafes, home networking,


As already stated, this means commercial home networks. They deliver connectivity via Ethernet, colllect fees and are subject to regulations. It doesn't mean your house LAN unless you provide paid service to unrelated people.


домашние сети is really not home networking. It's like an LAN used in several apartments of one or several houses.

So if you're using ADSL (yeah we mostly use it here in Belarus), that shouldn't apply to you.

Just saying.


So why is the offense described as a misdemeanor?


Another twist: Belarus has implemented a huge economic and customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan starting 1st january.

I wonder if they are bound to let Russian internet firms operate on Belarussian market unconstrained by any local laws; therefore giving them even more advantage.

Of course this is pure speculation; we do not know if they are going to enforce this law at all.


I have a strange feeling that actually implementing this globally would be the easiest way to reverse the law. There has to be a large number of government agencies which rely on 'foreign' internet for many reasons. This would pretty much paralyse a lot of the country for some days...

Also... How many security patches are obtained from foreign servers?


In countries where you can go to jail for being an oppositionist law only applies to people gov wants it to.

No problem with prohibiting something to the general population and still using it when it's convenient for the rulling class.


You're way too right. But wait, don't you live in Poland?


Yeah, but here we know about that because 22 years ago we had authoritharian government too.

BTW - Poland tries to do sth about Lukashenko (like sponsoring "Radio Free Bellarusia", and promising more trade and loans if he will be less opressive towards opposition). But I don't know if it works at all.

And knowing how government enterprises works in Poland, Radio Free Bellarusia probably suck :)


OMG. Just when you think you've heard the worst (SOPA?).

The discussion going on about whether it's a criminal or civil offense is really pointless. The main thing is that a country can simply decide one morning that it's illegal to access websites from other countries. Thinking about this as a possible reality makes me feel physically ill. Not to mention how stupid this idea is in the first place: many modern professions rely heavily on international websites for doing their jobs. Think about academic researchers, importers/exporters, even school teachers...

Horrible, just horrible.


If they want to limit network access why don't they just prohibit routing at the ISP level? They could set up VPN for authorized foreign network access.


Because they wanna get people paying bans.


Oh, man. I only just bought a .by Belarus domain six months ago (as a vanity domain, my surname ends in 'by'). I hope it doesn't effect that.


Several years ago I was prepared to purchase¹ swear.by so I could use foo.to.swear.by for a variety of foo. After receiving a printed application from the government of Belarus, I decided to quickly educate myself about life there. I'm glad I did. It made me decide not to get the domain name. I couldn't give that government any money in good conscience.

I know it hurts to let a domain name go, especially if you're using it, but I urge you not to renew. That government doesn't deserve our money.

¹Let's face it, rent is the correct term.


Life there is probably better than in any other CIS state, on average (or it was before the recession). Freedom is another question but the answer depends on your definition of that.

Anyone who was happy with .ly should be happy with .by


My complements.

If only the western governments held themselves to the same moral standards while considering financial support for the Belarusian regime.


I paid for three years up front, so hopefully plenty of time for a bloodless coup :-)


The only reason this law wasn't initiated earlier is because until recently very few people in Belarus had access to internet, so the regime could leave it alone and boast internet freedoms as oppose to China let's say. Now that the internet usage is growing rapidly it became important to control it.


this will simply push the use of encrypted tunnels to a new level. It's already a commodity service in China.


And when are encrypted tunnels getting banned? Individuals responsible for this kind of oppression need to be tried at international court for crimes against humanity.


you can't ban encrypted tunnels if there is any kind of global connectivity.

you can put an encrypted tunnel into a connection which looks quite ordinary.


No connection will look "ordinary" in this context if one of its endpoints is outside Belarus, while the other one is inside.


those guys are in power for 20 years already. I wouldn't expect them to be at any international trial -- not in their lives


the way these guys are governing their country -- as far as I know -- is supported by the majority of its population, mostly indifferent to the wikipedia horrors ;)


Not anymore. Those guys have triggered a hyperinflation. Suddently their majority support went poof. Now they're not more than "lesser evil".


proof for poof?


Here's some interesting reading, btw (if you read Russian): http://maraz-m-moroz.livejournal.com/387969.html


Interesting read, but he avoids talking about politics and doesn't even mention hyperinflation.


So I've heard and it sounds believable.




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