Medvedev Reassures Web Users

Authorities should take a measured approach to policing the Internet, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday in a speech that may ease concerns about a crackdown on free speech in cyberspace.

Rights activists have said authorities are trying to tighten regulation of the Internet, arguably the country's most vibrant venue for political discussion.

Speaking at the opening of the 12th annual Russian Internet Forum, a powwow of Internet business leaders held in the village of Gorky-10, outside Moscow, Medvedev addressed what he called "the delicate question of the relationship between freedom of speech and responsibility," in cyberspace.

"The answer to this question is fairly simple: Laws must be respected everywhere. ... At the same time, the state should take a calm, fair position" toward Internet users, he said.

Prosecutors have closed down several regional Internet sites critical of the authorities, saying they did not have the proper registration.

Federation Council member Vladimir Slutsker last month proposed requiring Russian Internet sites with more than 1,000 daily visitors to register as media outlets -- a proposal that could make blogs subject to the same regulations as newspapers.

Medvedev has said he is an avid consumer of Internet news, including from pro-opposition sites.

He has even expressed an appreciation for "Olbanian," the slang that Russians use in Internet forums. Asked during an online call-in conference last year whether Olbanian should become a school subject, Medvedev said, "One cannot ignore the necessity of learning the Olbanian language."

As first deputy prime minister, Medvedev oversaw a program to put every Russian school online.

He has promoted Internet use as part of a program to develop a knowledge-based economy and reduce Russia's dependence on oil and gas exports.

Medvedev told the forum that Russia had 40 million Internet users out of a population of 142 million.

(Reuters, MT)