SEEsummary #34 | January 2020

Issue no. 34 of the SEEsummary, published on 3 February 2020, by SEEDIG, in collaboration with DiploFoundation and the Geneva Internet Platform.

This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in late December 2019 and January 2020. Also included is a list of upcoming events (February 2020), and an overview of upcoming capacity development and other opportunities for SEE+ stakeholders.

Contributors to this issue: Katarine Gevorgyan, Aleksandra Ivanković, Olga Kyryliuk, Oliana Sula, Veronica Ștefan, Sorina Teleanu.

Telecommunications infrastructure

The Georgian Government approved the 2020-2025 Strategy for the development of broadband networks. The Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Ms Natia Turnava, mentioned that the strategy is aimed at supporting investments in infrastructure deployment, while at the same time offering its citizens high-quality Internet access, and support in upgrading digital skills and knowledge for employment growth.

Domain Name System

The Information Technology and Cybersecurity Service (STISC) within the Government of Moldova has announced that the registration of .md domain names is now cheaper with 33%. STISC has taken over the management of the .md country-code top-level domain name following the absorption of MoldData State Enterprise, which used to act as .md registry. As the new registry operator, STISC has also committed to taking the required actions that guarantee compliance with the international commitments undertaken by the Republic of Moldova regarding the management of .md, and to making .md domain name registration services more accessible, transparent, effective, and of a higher quality.

Artificial intelligence

On 26 December 2019, the Serbian Government adopted the Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2020-2025. The aim of the strategy is to ensure the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in a way which will improve economic growth, employment and quality of life. Emphasis is put on areas such as adapting the education system, supporting science and research, encouraging the development of business entities in the field of AI, the role of the public sector, and ethical aspects of AI. According to the document, the Artificial Intelligence Council, which should coordinate activities related to AI development, will be established as a temporary working body of the government. Serbia is the first country in the region that has developed a strategy in the field of AI. The adopted strategy is in line with the European AI Initiative.

The Government of Cyprus has announced the approval of a national strategy for AI, aimed to help the country ‘become a pioneer in the field of AI’. According to the Minister of Communications, Mr Yiannis Karousos, the document outlines four key priorities: maximising investments in AI through partnerships, creating national databases to facilitate access to training data for AI developers, nurturing talents and lifelong learning and developing ethical and trustworthy AI. Before moving to implementation, the strategy needs to be adopted by the country’s legislative body.

Cybersecurity & Cybercrime

The Turkish telecom company Turk Telekom announced on 20 January 2020 that its Internet services and those of its sub-brand TTNet were interrupted for several hours due to a cyber-attack. According to the company’s press release, the cyber-attacks targeted its DNS addresses, as part of a larger attack towards institutions and governments across the globe, without mentioning who specifically was behind this particular situation. Reportedly, other attacks were recorded in October 2019, when Turk Telekom and Garanti BBVA were among the targets.

A series of cyber-attacks affected Greek government website in mid-January, including the National Intelligence Services, the Parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Finance, among others. A group of Turkish hackers called Anka Neferler claimed responsibility for the attacks, reportedly in retaliation for the position of the Greek government not to recognise an agreement between Turkey and Libya to establish an economic zone. Cited Greek governmental sources indicated that attacks did not lead to information being stolen, and that an investigation was ongoing to determine the exact source. Soon after these attacks were recorded, a Greek group known as Anonymous Greece launched similar cyber-attacks on several Turkish websites and online services, including the e-mail services of the 112 emergency call number, the Turkish Police, and the Economy Ministry.

The Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs received cybercrime investigation equipment and software with a total value of EUR 130 000, as part of a wider European Union programme, in which Georgian authorities receive support in areas of migration and border management. The overall EU support includes equipment valued at EUR 10 million and is implemented in Georgia with the support of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The overall aim is to assist Georgian authorities to meet the benchmarks of the EU visa-free travel mechanism.

The National School of Judges of Ukraine conducted a regional training for judges on cybercrime and e-evidence as a part of the ‘CyberEast: Action on Cybercrime for Cyber Resilience in the Eastern Partnership Region’ project jointly run by the European Union and the Council of Europe. The event took place in Lviv and gathered 25 participants from eight regions of Ukraine. During three training days, judges were introduced to the threats, trends and challenges of cybercrime, as well as technological aspects of criminal proceedings. They also got to know how to identify suspects on the Internet, discussed substantive and procedural aspects of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, practical cases of using e-evidence in criminal proceedings, financial investigations, international legal assistance in cybercrime cases, public private partnership in cyberspace and criminal cash flows online. The course was based on the training materials developed by the Council of Europe and improved judges’ awareness in the fields of cybersecurity, combating cybercrime and using e-evidence.

Access

As the second implementation phase of the Agreement on the price reduction of the roaming services in public mobile communication networks in the Western Balkans region came into force on 1 January 2020, roaming charges have been additionally reduced in Albania, Kosovo*, North Macedonia and Serbia. Depending on the country/territory, prices are lowered from 9 to 35 percent. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are also signatories of the agreement, decided not to reduce roaming costs. According to the State Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of Serbia, Ms Tatjana Matić, these two countries asked for more time for their mobile operators and regulatory agencies to comply with this phase of the agreement. Further reductions of roaming charges are expected from 1 July 2020.

The Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation along with major telecom operators have decided that starting from 1 March 2020 Internet traffic for access to the public services portal and websites of federal and regional authorities will no longer be charged. This step was undertaken as a part of the Accessible Internet Project initiated by the Russian President. The so-called ‘white list’ of websites that can be accessed even with a zero data balance includes a portal of public services, sites of the President and the Government of Russia, both chambers of the Federal Assembly, all federal executive bodies, and 85 regional governments. Access to the websites of regional ministries and departments through the website of the regional government will also be free of charge. Free access to other Russian Internet services is under discussion. Authorities say that a high rate of Internet accessibility should become a competitive advantage of Russia, and create a space for education, creativity, communication, as well as the implementation of social and cultural projects.

Capacity development

The Ukrainian government has launched a test version of the national online platform on digital literacy – Diya. Digital Education, which offers free online series where an expert and a celebrity explain specifics of using websites, applications, search engines and social media, as well as basic Internet safety rules. Currently, three series are available: basic, for teachers, and for parents regarding child safety online, while another five are expected to be released soon. Each series includes a few episodes lasting from five to ten minutes, with some of them concluding with a knowledge check test. A certificate will be granted upon successful completion of each course. The ultimate goal of the project is to teach digital skills to six million people during the next three years, with 70% of the targeted audience being older people residing in all regions of Ukraine. The learning will be offered online (via the platform), offline (via hubs), and in blended formats. The government also plans to launch a nationwide TV campaign.

Development

Serbia and Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, have signed an agreement in the field of the digital transformation of public administration. The agreement outlines activities which are expected to improve e-government services in Republika Srpska. This cooperation is part of the Digitalising Serbia Programme by which Serbia aims to share knowledge and successful solutions, and contribute to build capacities of neighbouring countries in the area of digital transformation.

The Chairman of Belarus‘ State Committee on Science and Technology, Mr Aleksandr Shumilin has announced that more hi-tech parks in the cities of Baranovichi, Borisov, Bobruisk, Orsha, and Molodechno are to be set up in 2020. As of now, Belarus hosts 16 hi-tech parks and 9 technology transfer centers, facilitating innovation in the country and the creation of new jobs.

The Romanian Authority for Digitalisation (ADR) is the new institution responsible for digital public services and digital policies in Romania. The Authority is replacing the former Romanian Agency for the Digital Agenda (AADR) and takes over other roles concerning digital policies and strategies from the former Ministry of Communication and Information Society (MCSI).Following an institutional reform started at the end of December 2019 and continued in January 2020, on 28 January 2020 the Romanian Government adopted the final decision concerning the organising and functioning of the new authority. The main aims of ADR are to accelerate the digitalisation of public services and better align them to the European standards, including through the use of EU structural funds. Furthermore, ADR will operate under the direct coordination of the General Secretariat of the Government, with a reported intention to ensure more freedom in the overall coordination of all digital issues, at national level.

Economic issues

The mayor of Turkish city Konya, Mr Uğur İbrahim Altay reportedly announced the first steps in the project City Coin. The initiative is planned to be formally announced in October 2020, during the Smart Cities and Municipalities Congress and Exhibition, organised in Konya. According to BeInCrypto.com, if the news is confirmed, Konya would be among the only cities in the world with its own cryptocurrency. The long-term goal of local authorities is to develop an inclusive cryptocurrency-related ecosystem.



Azexport.az portal of Azerbaijan‘s Center for Analysis of Economic Reforms and Communications has launched the Pay Ring digital payment system, a new non-cash payment process using modern wireless communication systems like Near Field Communication (NFC). The Pay Ring is expected to stimulate cashless payments and increase transparency in the country’s economy. The main advantages of the system are the absence of the need for a plastic card or mobile phone to make payments, the provision of high security through the Token Reinforcement System, the absence of bank information about the user in the system to minimize the risks of cybercrime, the possibility of more than a million payment transactions, 10 years’ warranty devices, shock resistance and water tightness of the device, compactness, and a modern stylish design. The system is independent and does not require using a mobile phone or any other additional equipment. Users’ banking data is transmitted to the system only once.

According to the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Moldova, the government has approved a series of changes to the procedures for electronic customs clearance of goods. Some of the changes include an extension of the procedure for the electronic declaration for “re-export” operations; the regulation of the procedure of electronic customs clearance of goods in the case of international postal items and by the economic agents from the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova; and the regulation of the procedure in the case of transport with subsequent successive loads with other goods placed under the status of customs export, temporary export, outward processing and re-export. These measures are intended to simplify the procedures for economic agents and determine the reduction of customs clearance time.

Privacy and data protection

The Hellenic Data Protection Authority (DPA) has imposed a EUR 15 000 fine on the company Allseas Marine S.A. for the illegal installation and operation of a closed-circuit video-surveillance system. The fine was part of an investigation into the lawfulness of access to and inspection of deleted emails of a senior manager of the company for whom there was suspicion that he has committed unlawful acts against the company’s interests. The authority determined that the company acted in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as its internal policies provided for a ban on the use of the company’s electronic communications and networks for private purposes, and for the possibility of carrying out inspections. However, the DPA found that that the company did not satisfy the employee’s right of access to his personal data contained in his corporate computer, and ordered the company to immediately comply with this right.

Content policy & Freedom of expression

On 26 December 2019, the Constitutional Court of Turkey ruled that the Government’s ban on Wikipedia violates freedom of expression. After the publication of the ruling in the Official Gazette on 15 January 2020, access to Wikipedia has been restored. The Government blocked access to Wikipedia editions in all languages in April 2017 after the platform refused to delete articles, written in English, which accused Turkey of sponsoring terrorist organisations. Authorities claimed that Wikipedia was part of a smear campaign against the country. The Wikimedia Foundation unsuccessfully appealed against the decision and eventually petitioned the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) in the spring of last year. The ECHR is still considering the case.

The President of Albania, Mr Ilir Mehta has vetoed controversial media laws known as an anti-defamation legislative package and has returned them to the parliament for reconsideration. In the explanatory note accompanying his decree, Mr Meta wrote that the laws ’through punishing mechanisms, aim to put media outlets under political control, especially the electronic media, which constitutes a gross violation of the freedom of expression’. The laws, adopted in the Parliament on 18 December 2019, would give the Complaints Council, which is a part of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the power to oblige electronic publications service providers to publish an apology, remove content, or insert a pop-up notice in cases of violations of provisions on dignity and privacy. Moreover, both the Audiovisual Media Authority and the Authority of Postal and Electronic Communications could impose hefty fines on media outlets that did not abide by these laws. Over the past few months, journalists, civil society groups, and international organisations have urged for the withdrawal of the laws as proposed by the government. The Albanian Prime Minister Mr Edi Rama insists that the laws are ’fully compatible with international standards’.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports made public a draft law amending certain legal acts of Ukraine aimed to provide national information security and enshrine a right to access to truthful information. The Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the European Federation of Journalists strongly criticised the new bill, arguing it introduces excessive state regulation and control over mass media and it could have a harmful effect on the self-governance of journalists. If this law passes, journalists will be required to hold a professional press card from a state controlled organisation; media content will be monitored by a Special Commissioner who will implement a policy of fines, blocking, and sanction; a Trust Index based on criteria developed by the Special Commissioner will be introduced; the status of a professional journalist will be granted and denied in accordance with the Code of Journalistic Ethics; and media outlets will be required to publish official identification information. The document prescribes criminal charges for spreading disinformation with fines up to EUR 350 000 and up to 7 years of imprisonment. The representatives of the mass media community and non-governmental organisations made a statement claiming that the disinformation bill provides for a dangerous level of interference in journalistic activity. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir mentioned that fight against disinformation should not be done at the expense of media freedom and expressed his readiness to get engaged into dialogue with Ukrainian authorities and provide legal review of the draft law.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) has launched the BIRN Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD), a cross-border platform aimed at providing resources and legal assistance to journalists in Southern and Eastern Europe (SEE) while also documenting attacks on media. The platform has different features such as how-to guides, interviews with experts, tools, opportunities, news section, etc. Moreover, it has a monitoring database which covers the state of digital rights in SEE. All resources, as well as support from experts when needed, are provided free of charge.

Opportunities

Fellowships, scholarships, events and other engagement opportunities for SEE+ stakeholders

Upcoming deadlines

The Council of Europe has launched a Call for consultancy services on a feasibility study on the possible establishment of a mechanism for the certification of AI solutions by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ). Applicants should submit a CV and expression of interest. Detailed information about the position and requirements can be found in the call. The deadline for applications is 5 February 2020.

The RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) offers interested individuals the opportunity to participate in the following programmes: 

Successful applicants receive a free ticket for the event, economy travel to/from home country to the event, and free accommodation near the event venue. The deadline for applications for all programmes is 9 February 2020.

The European Dialogue for Internet Governance (EuroDIG) is accepting applications for its Youth Dialogue on Internet Governance (YOUthDIG) programme. This year, the programme will welcome around 30 young people from all over Europe to a three-day YOUthDIG event on 8–10 June 2020 and the EuroDIG Meeting on 11–12 June 2020, in Trieste, Italy. Participants will have an opportunity to discuss key Internet governance and digital policy topics, network with experts, and prepare the 2020 Youth Messages (which will be presented at EuroDIG and the global Internet Governance Forum). Applicants must be between 18 and 30 years old, reside in Europe, and show interest in Internet governance and motivation to actively participate in YOUthDIG and EuroDIG. The deadline for applications is 21 February 2020.

Upcoming events

3 February 2020 Belgrade, Serbia

6 February 2020 Zagreb, Croatia

11 February 2020 Istanbul, Turkey

12 February 2020 Moscow, Russia

15 February 2020 Zagreb, Croatia

15 February 2020 Lviv, Ukraine

20 February 2020 Sofia, Bulgaria

20–21 February 2020 Istanbul, Turkey

21–22 February 2020 Minsk, Belarus

27 February 2020 Zagreb, Croatia

27–28 February 2020 Sofia, Bulgaria

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Editorial note

The SEEsummary is produced on a best effort basis, by our team of volunteer editors. Each month, the editors scan local and regional media, as well as websites of public institutions and other organisations, and compile what they find to be some of the most significant digital policy developments.

The SEEsummary does not claim to be a comprehensive source of information. Despite our efforts, we may miss some things happening across the region. To help us cover as many significant developments as possible, we invite you to share with us news from your countries.

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