Belarus said to restrict access to foreign websites

A new law restricting citizens and residents from access and commerce on foreign websites goes into effect Friday.

Belarus has introduced a law that imposes restrictions on citizens and residents in the country visiting or using foreign websites, according to Global Legal Monitor, an online publication of the Law Library of Congress in Washington.

Under the new law, which goes into effect Jan. 6, transactions from Belarus on the website of a foreign Internet company such as Amazon.com would be illegal, and the Internet company may be sued for violating national law, wrote Peter Roudik, the author of the article.

The Eastern European republic, which was formerly a part of the Soviet Union, is listed under "countries under surveillance" for Internet censorship by the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.

The new law, published Dec. 21, requires all companies and individuals registered as entrepreneurs in Belarus to use only domestic Internet domains for providing online services, conducting sales, or exchanging email messages, according to Global Legal Monitor.

It appears that business requests from Belarus cannot be served over the Internet if the service provider is using online services located outside the country, Roudik said. The tax authorities, together with the police and secret police, are authorized to initiate, investigate and prosecute such violations, he added.

The new law also provides for fines and closures of Internet cafes, or other places that offer access to the Internet, if users of Internet services provided by these places are found visiting websites located outside of Belarus and if such behavior of the clients was not properly identified, recorded, and reported to the authorities, according to Global Legal Monitor. 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.

The new law implements Decree 60 of the Belarus President in February 2010, referred to as "Improvements to the Usage of the National Segment of the Internet," which came into effect in July of that year.

The decree requires Internet service providers to register with the government, provide technical details on the country's online networks, systems and information resources, and also identify all the devices including computers and mobile phones used to connect to the Internet, according to Reporters Without Borders. Decree 60 also requires users going online in a cybercafe or using a shared connection, for example, in a condominium, to identify themselves, and a record of all online connections to be kept for one year, it said.

The government also set up a system for filtering and blocking websites considered dangerous, including "extremist" sites, those linked with trafficking in arms, drugs, or human beings, and those that are pornographic or incite violence, Reporters Without Borders said.

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