The Supreme Court of Russia has taken upon itself the responsibility to decide a case that may become a precedent for the crypto sector. The highest judicial authority in the country has accepted an appeal against the blocking of a popular Russian analytical portal – Bitcoininfo.ru. Its decision will affect dozens of crypto websites with restricted access, including foreign platforms like Localbitcoins.com
Setting a Precedent
Lawyers from the Roskomsvoboda project and the Center of Digital rights law firm have appealed the blocking of Bitcoininfo.ru, issued by a local court in Saint Petersburg in 2016. They are also fighting restrictions imposed on access to the popular Finland-based peer-to-peer exchange platform Localbitcoins.com Experts say the decision of the highest judicial authority is likely to become a precedent for the whole crypto sector in Russia.
This is the first cassation appeal against the blocking of bitcoin-related source to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, Sarkis Darbinyan, leading lawyer of “Roskomsvoboda” told RBC. It was filed on February 16 and the court will meet to look into the case on March 21, 2018. The decision to restrict access to Bitcoininfo.ru was taken by the Vyborgsky District Court in Russia’s Northern Capital.
Another local court, in Oktyabrsky District, banned more than 40 websites offering information about cryptocurrencies and exchange services in Russia. Its decision was recently struck down by the City Court of Saint Petersburg. The measure was requested by the Prosecutor’s Office and effectively restricted access to the internet platforms. The judges had stated that the spreading of information about bitcoin and the use of cryptocurrencies was illegal in the Russian Federation.
The Supreme Court in Moscow has subpoenaed Russia’s regulatory agency Roskomnadzor as a third party in the case. The Federal service is responsible for the supervision of communications, information technology, and mass media. It also has the final say when it comes to blacklisting websites in the country.
The Vyborgsky District Court decided to block Bitcoininfo.ru in June 2016. The publication of information about the “electronic currency” bitcoin, “a virtual means of payment and accumulation”, violates the provisions of the law “On the Central Bank of the Russian Federation”, the court’s decision read. Furthermore, that information “undermines the constitutional order and authority” in Russia and “the foundations of the material welfare of citizens”. According to the judges, the website had been violating the rights and legitimate interests of persons who had access to illegal information, and therefore was subject to restriction.
The decision states that the Russian ruble is the official currency in the country and that issuing other currencies and surrogates is illegal. The Bitcoininfo.ru case was initiated by the local district prosecutor. The website administrators found out about it post factum, after their platform had been blocked. Their lawyers now insist that there is no legal ground in the current Russian legislation to ban the spreading of cryptocurrency-related information. They also point out that Bitcoininfo.ru was not offering transaction services to its readers.
Over a Quarter of a Million Websites Blocked in 5 Years
The Center for Digital Rights lawyers say the review of the case in the Supreme Court is important not only for crypto-related sites, but also for the whole internet-based industry in Russia. They have filed at least 20 appeals in the last few years, but this is the first one the highest judicial authority has decided to look into. If it strikes down the ban on Bitcoininfo.ru, it will set a precedent for many similar cases and put an end to the debate about the legality of cryptocurrencies.
The exact number of banned Russian crypto websites is unknown. According to Roskomsvoboda, access to several dozen domains containing the word “bitcoin” has been restricted by court decisions or by the Federal Tax Service. Last summer the regulatory agency Roskomnadzor announced it had blocked about 257,000 internet platforms in a period of five years.