April 20, 2011 / 1:38 PM / in 7 years

Putin says no plans to crack down on Internet

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he had no plans to crack down on the Internet ahead of 2012 elections, seeking to play down concerns over recent hacker attacks on a blogging website.

“My personal opinion is that I don’t think it is possible to limit anything,” said Putin, answering a question from a lawmaker after his annual address to parliament.

Attacks on Russia’s most popular blogging site and a security service warning to Gmail and Skype have renewed fears that authorities want to control Internet usage ahead of 2012 polls.

Social networking websites like Facebook played a crucial role in demonstrations and uprisings that rocked the Arab world this year, prompting some governments to shut down internet access.

Putin said security services were concerned that the Internet could be used against the interests of the country, but added that “it is their concern.”

“We don’t plan on slapping down anything,” he said, making a play on words that referred to the Cheka, a KGB predecessor agency that notoriously cracked down on dissent in the early days of the Soviet Union.

In a country where much media is state-run, the Internet is one of the last bastions of free speech.

Russian bloggers freely criticize authorities, often scathingly, question high-level corruption and swap information.

Security analysts say this month’s cyber attacks on blogging service Live Journal could be a trial run for closing down more websites in the event of unrest.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in February, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said Google was responsible for uprisings that helped unseat Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

Reporting by Moscow Newsroom; editing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Heavens

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