WASHINGTON— Internet users in Russia will no longer be able to access a massive database of cached webpages, apparently due to one single website authorities in Moscow don’t like.
Russia’s attorney general has ordered blockage of the site, known as “The Wayback Machine,” citing legislation that bans minors from accessing sites that contain pornography, sexual abuse, or extremist activities.
The Wayback Machine stores cached images of webpages around the world going back as far as 1996 and contains almost 500 billion stored images.
The Kremlin says the unprecedented block is needed to keep dangerous information from reaching minors online. But Russian free speech activists argue the ban is just the latest move by Moscow to erase anything on the web it finds objectionable.
According to Rublacklist.net, a censorship monitoring project run by a group known as the Russian Pirate Party, the block is due to a single cached webpage called “Solitary Jihad in Russia.” The page contains discussion of “partisan resistance”, and states that Islamic sharia law “must be instituted all across the world.”
The targeted website was blocked by the Russian Internet agency Roskomnadzor in June, citing the need to protect minors.
But the Wayback Machine still contains an earlier snapshot of the webpage and because it uses the HTTPS encrypted protocol, Russian authorities said they had no choice but to ban the Wayback Machine. Rublacklist.net reports access to the Wayback Machine was cut at the end of June.
The San Francisco-based non-profit Internet Archive hosts the Wayback Machine. While it’s not the largest collection of cached webpages – Google estimates it has over 35 trillion – it remains popular with researchers and others for offering snapshots of what websites looked like at various points in the past.
Because it captures screenshots from webpages all over the world, the Wayback Machine also gives readers a chance to read news reports from all over the world in the past, and compare them with their more local media. With the Wayback block, that information is now inaccessible to most Russians.
Over the last year, Moscow has aggressively escalated its censorship of the Internet.
In May, Roskomnadzor sent letters to the U.S.-based web services Twitter, Facebook, and Google, requesting large amounts of private information on Russian’s who use their services and demanding various pages deemed illegal for advocating “unsanctioned protests” in Russia be permanently taken down.
Sites run by opposition leaders Garry Kasparov and Alexei Navalny, and independent media like the Ekho Moskvy radio station and Grani newspaper, have also been banned.
Just this week, Vitaly Milonov, a prominent member of the Russian Duma, called for Facebook to be completely banned, due to an app that supporters of the same-sex marriage to apply a rainbow filter to their profile pictures.