Sanctions in the 21st Century: UK Imposes Social Media Restrictions in Response to Continued Russian Aggression | The Volkov Legal Group

[co-author: Alex Cotia]

Alex Cotia, Head of Regulation and Compliance Advisor at The Volkov Law Group, joins us for an article on Russia’s UK social media sanctions.

Under a statutory instrument enacted under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering (Amending the Russia (Sanctions) (Exiting the EU) Regulations 2019), the UK government recently passed sweeping new trade restrictions on the provision of content on the internet and online social media. to UK parties by designated Russian entities. The instrument contains a number of prohibitions that reinforce the UK’s stated intention to punish Vladimir Putin’s regime for its 2014 “illegal annexation” of Crimea and the continuing “special military operation” without release on the sovereign territory of Ukraine. The demonstrable aim of the new restrictions is to prevent UK parties from accessing a continuous stream of disinformation propagated by Putin and his allies.

Under the instrument, “social media services” – including popular video-sharing platforms – must take “reasonable steps” to prevent content generated directly on the service or otherwise uploaded or shared on the service by a designated person can only be accessed by a United Kingdom. the person. In addition, the instrument requires internet service providers (both fixed and wireless) to take similar “reasonable steps” to prevent users of the service in the UK from accessing websites associated with a named person ( URL blocking). The instrument also requires mobile apps to store (for example, Apple and others) take “reasonable steps” to prevent UK app store users from downloading or otherwise accessing an app provided by a designated person. As with similar regulations issued following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Social Media Sanctions Instrument empowers the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development to designate persons to which the new restrictions will apply. The instrument further empowers the UK Office of Communications or “Ofcom” – the UK’s main communications regulator – to investigate potential breaches of social media sanctions and impose monetary civil penalties on any person or entity that fails to comply with its requirements. Criminal penalties may also be imposed on persons who fail to co-operate with an Ofcom investigation into possible breaches of the penalties. As of June 1, 2022, however, only two (2) entities, namely, Rossiya Segodnya (the official news agency of the Russian Federation) and TV-Novosti (which owns and operates the RT network) – have been designated by the UK government on its official sanctions list as subject to ‘internet service sanctions’.

While restricting the ability of British people to access prohibited content is permitted under the laws of that jurisdiction, it is hard to imagine similar measures being imposed by the United States, where basic speech protections and the First Amendment press guarantee that no government agency can act as an official censor. Little, if any, controversy has been generated by UK social media sanctions – likely due to the disreputable nature of sanctioned parties – but governments like the UK (where freedom of speech is more qualified) should exercise great caution in limiting free movement. information, even at the risk of allowing the dissemination of false or misleading information. In the ongoing fight against authoritarian rule, the most potent weapon in the arsenal of the UK and its allies is loyalty to fundamental democratic principles which promote and foster – rather than restrict – freedom .

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