December 2021 - January 2022
Issue no. 54 of the SEEsummary, published on 2 February 2022, by SEEDIG. This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in December 2021 and January 2022. Also included: a list of upcoming events in February 2022 and available development opportunities.
Country contributors to this issue: Katarina Gevorgyan, Dušan Stojičević, Vasile Popa. Editors: Meri Baghdasaryan, Maja Ćalović, Grațiela Dumitrescu, Neli Odishvili. Coordination and final editing: Olga Kyryliuk. Design: Charalampos Kyritsis.
The Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications in the government of Serbia, Tatjana Matić, announced that the auction for the allocation of 5G frequencies in Serbia will likely be held by the middle of 2022. The auction will be preceded by the adoption of a new law on electronic communications and the public debate on benefits and potential consequences following the introduction of the 5G network.
Meta Platforms informed the public about abolishing seven cyber mercenaries that were “indiscriminately” targeting journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition and human rights activists in over 100 countries. After investigation, Meta removed 1 500 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to the banned firms and alerted 50 000 users whose accounts became spies’ targets. Among cyber mercenaries, there are companies from Israel, India, North Macedonia, and China that operate a vast network of tools and fictitious accounts to profile their targets, establish contact, and install malicious software through phishing campaigns. In particular, the North Macedonian company Cytrox develops, exploits and sells surveillance tools and malware that enable its clients to compromise iOS and Android devices. Cytrox customers were identified in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Germany.
Bulgaria’s judicial and law enforcement bodies cooperated with Europol, Eurojust, and authorities from Serbia, Greece, and Germany to investigate and dismantle a criminal group involved in an online money-laundering scam causing losses of over 10 million euros. The group acted as an online investment company with two call centres in Bulgaria, from where the operators speaking German, Greek, English and Spanish contacted potential investors. More than 100 officers and prosecutors participated in the operation on the action day. The police searched 24 locations, interrogated 66 witnesses
in Sofia and Burgas, and arrested one suspect.
The websites of the seven Ukrainian ministries, the Treasury, and the National Emergency Service became subject to a massive cyberattack. Among affected websites is the state service, where Ukrainians’ electronic passports and vaccination certificates are stored. The attacks on government websites allegedly resulted in the leak of Ukrainians’ personal data. The EU condemned the attacks and considered providing technical assistance to Ukraine.
The Russian courts issued fines against Github, Twitter, and Google ranging from one million roubles to 100 million dollars. While Twitter was fined for failure to delete content deemed illegal in Russia, Google’s fine was due to its systemic failure to remove banned content. Previously, Google was fined for not removing allegedly illegal content in 2018-2020. However, this was the first time that the court considered the company’s annual turnover in the Russian market when deciding on the fine amount. These judgments follow the adoption of the law on foreign Internet companies, which entered into full force on 1 January 2022, requiring large tech companies operating in Russia to have an in-country representative or face sanctions. Moreover, the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor added the Tor Project website to the registry of forbidden resources. The reason remains unclear.
As part of the Open Balkans Initiative, citizens of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia will soon have free access to the labour market across the territory of these three countries, without a need to obtain work and residence permits. Respective agreements were signed in Tirana on 21 December 2021. Among other things, the leaders of participating states pledged to connect their national e-government portals to provide citizens with universal access to electronic services of each other. Therefore, they agreed to introduce the Open Balkans Identification Number and the Federation of Electronic Identities. The Open Balkans Initiative, originally called the mini Schengen, aims to form an economic zone of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia.
The European Commission published the Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles, representing the EU member states’ vision of the digital economy that supports the values of democracy, privacy, solidarity, freedom of choice and security. This declaration is part of the 2030 Digital Decade Strategy, which includes such goals as doubling Europe’s microchip manufacturing capacity, ramping up 5G coverage and building tens of thousands of data storage and processing centres known as edge nodes. It aims to inform the EU citizens of their digital rights and put inclusivity and freedom of choice at the heart of digital economies across all EU member states. The declaration may be signed alongside the presidents of the Council and the Parliament before summer 2022.
Bulgarian brothers Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov created an innovative alternative solution for aerial cargo-carrying. This unmanned aerial vehicle can land on short or unpaved runways, thus reaching inaccessible areas. Additionally, it comes with 80 percent lower costs while producing fewer emissions than traditional air freight. The unmanned aerial vehicle named Black Swan has a 350 kg cargo capacity and can fly distances of up to 2 500 km, at a price of about 1 euro per kilogram. The innovative solution was pitched at the end of 2021 at Sofia Airport and attracted the attention of two major players in the world cargo market. The Black Swan’s first commercial flights might take place as early as mid-2022 from the airports of Liege (Belgium) and Brescia (Italy).
At the Serbian Pavilion on Expo 2020 in Dubai, Arena Esport TV and Relog Media, the largest esports production company in the Balkans, presented a joint project of building the very first Gaming Village in the world. It will be located in Serbia and designed in accordance with the highest environmental standards of sustainable construction. Built from natural materials, the facility will feature recycled IT equipment, solar panels and roof gardens. The entrance to this complex will be allowed only by electric cars. The Gaming Village will include a 10 000 seat gaming arena, an administrative building, commercial premises, a five-star hotel with 300 luxurious rooms and a wellness centre with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree obliging the government, by 15 January 2022, to identify Internet service providers (ISPs) for schools, universities, and electoral commissions for 2022-2023. The ISPs should use primarily Russian telecommunication equipment. In addition, the selected providers are expected to ensure compliance with restrictions on access to online information prohibited under Russian legislation and information that might cause harm to children’s health or development.
The Greek scientific community united to open a new research centre on artificial intelligence (AI), data science and algorithms “Archimedes”. It will serve the basic and applied research by financing visiting researchers and doctoral candidates. The initiative has an initial fund of over 21 million euros. It aims to gather the most prominent AI thought leaders in Greece to provide solutions for problems that cannot be solved with classical tools. “Archimedes” will also act as a global hub offering opportunities for collaboration and synergies among distinguished academics and young scientists nationally and internationally. In the field of entrepreneurship, the centre will strengthen cooperation with the rapidly growing startup ecosystem, facilitating the transfer of research results to the market.
In cooperation with the Internet Development Initiative NGO and Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uzbekistan, the Scientific Cyber Security Association of Georgia hosted the first International Winter Cyber Camp “Ethical Hacker”. Leading professors and practitioners in the field of computer science and cyber security in Georgia became the trainers of the camp. The agenda covered the following topics: user safety, network security, cryptography, web security and secure programming. Additionally, the students learned Python programming, ethical hacking and cryptography. The Cyber Camp was concluded with a hackathon.
Recently published Cumulative Report on the development of the information society in Albania, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia
covers the state of e-services, digital literacy, cybersecurity and civic participation in the targeted Western Balkan countries. The research aims to measure the progress with the initial level of development and the Digital Agenda (DA) requirements. It also sets a roadmap with recommendations for strategic, legal, and administrative improvements. More detailed information can be found in the individual country reports. The overall conclusion is that despite certain significant developments in some countries, there is a strong need for further action for DA advancement. The report is published as part of the project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the DA – ICEDA”, financially supported by the European Union and implemented by a partner consortium of CSOs: Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society (North Macedonia) as a leading partner, in cooperation with the e-Governance Academy (Estonia), CRTA – Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro), Open Data Kosovo* (Kosovo*) and Levizja Mjaft! (Albania).
The Digital Transformation Strategy of Montenegro 2022-2026 was developed by the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, and recently adopted by the government of Montenegro. The document defines priorities and prerequisites for the development of a near-future digital Montenegro and is accompanied by an Action Plan for 2022-2023. The Strategy specifies ways to digitalise public services and reduce the digital divide by improving citizens’ digital skills. Among the key goals are enhancing capabilities for a digital transformation, raising digital awareness and increasing the competitiveness of the ICT sector. The Ministry plans to open the Digital Academy, which will serve as a platform for digital training of students, public servants and vulnerable groups. Moreover, in cooperation with the University of Montenegro and the ICT business community, the Ministry is working on establishing the Institute, which aims to create rapid educational programmes for further training of engineers in accordance with market needs and retraining of unemployed university students for basic IT jobs.
The government of Serbia approved the Strategy for the Development of the Startup Ecosystem from 2021 to 2025. The working group in charge of drafting the document consisted of representatives from the startup community and state bodies. The Strategy aims to popularise startup culture, improve international recognition of the Serbian startup ecosystem, and attract national and international investors. Among the most commendable targets is startups’ recognition in the legal system. Similarly, significant efforts will be focused on training professionals and equipping them with the proper skill set and mindset. The Strategy foresees educational programs in schools to build up the entrepreneurial spirit and way of thinking from a young age. The document also envisages respective funding mechanisms through venture capital funds by combining support from the state and private investors.
The Youth Dialogue on Internet Governance (YOUthDIG) invites applications from young people aged 18-30, residents of the Council of Europe member states, with a strong interest in Internet governance and digital policy. YOUthDIG is an annual pre-event to the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) aimed at fostering active youth participation. Its 2022 programme will consist of an online phase with regular exchanges, presentations by participants and virtual learning opportunities, and participation in the EuroDIG onsite meeting (20-22 June) in Trieste, Italy (if travel restrictions allow). Interested candidates should submit applications by 10 February 2022 via an online form.
Israel-Georgia School of Digital Culture, a collaborative project to evolve an innovative ecosystem and promote Georgian thought leaders, invites applications. The School’s overarching theme is the relationship between individuals and technology. Its main aim is to provide students with the best information and raise their awareness of global digital processes and Internet architecture. The thematic modules are structured around the following issues: personal data protection and GDPR, cybersecurity, cybercrime and legal aspects of cyberspace, artificial intelligence and machine learning, e-governance, misinformation and fake news, digital transformation, and digital literacy. The School is organised by Internet Development Initiative NGO and supported by the Embassy of Israel to Georgia. Interested applicants should meet a set of requirements: be of age between 17-25, have good Georgian and English language skills, possess a COVID-19 green certificate. The application form is available here.
The SEEsummary is produced on a best effort basis, by our team of volunteer editors and contributors. 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.
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