SEEsummary #41 | September 2020
Issue no. 41 of the SEEsummary, published on 1 October 2020, by SEEDIG. This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in September 2020. Also included: a list of upcoming events in October.
Country contributors to this issue: Katarina Gevorgyan, Marko Paloski, Mariam Tsiklauri. Editors: Meri Baghdasaryan, Grațiela Dumitrescu, Aleksandra Ivanković, Neli Odishvili. Coordination and final editing Olga Kyryliuk. Design : Charalampos Kyritsis.
Hrvatski Telekom, a Croatian telecom company, initiated a 19 million kuna (EUR 2.5 million) fiber-optic infrastructure project in the eastern city area of Slavonski Brod. By enabling 8 000 households to use ultra-fast Internet, the project aims to improve the local economy and provide seamless access to e-government services, which require high Internet speed. The first users are expected to be connected in early November. Hrvatski Telekom plans to deploy a fiber-optic network in other areas of Slavonski Brod by the end of 2020.
Within the framework of the Wifi4EU initiative, 118 municipalities in Cyprus received EUR 15 000 vouchers to install free Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas, including libraries, squares, museums, parks, etc. The Wi-Fi hotspots located across the country will allow citizens to set up their online shops and will keep tourists connected wherever they go. Cyprus works to promote digital transformation in public and private sectors, increase digital literacy, and bridge the digital divide following the country’s new digital strategy (aligned with the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, the country’s Ministry of Health suffered from a cyber-attack initiated from outside the country. As a result, documents related to the country’s coronavirus management efforts were leaked from the Lugar Lab research centre managed by the Georgian National Centre for Disease Control under the Ministry of Health. Some of the documents that were published on an external resource were intentionally falsified. The Ministry of Internal Affairs called on partner countries to assist in the urgent and effective investigation. Meanwhile, the Georgian authorities claimed that the Lugar Lab is a constant target of Russian unjustified accusations for US-funded experiments.
According to a report by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, in Armenia attacks by malicious financial programs increased in the second quarter of 2020. Around 1.3 percent of computer users faced attempts to run malicious software designed to steal money through online access to bank accounts. A slight increase in malware attacks was also observed in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Usually, the cybercriminals are creating fake web pages resembling those of banks, online stores or payment systems, or using spam, phishing, and keyboard spyware. Trojans downloaded by users from those fake resources steal bank card information and payment details. To stay safe, cybersecurity specialists advise to avoid opening any attachments received from unknown people via email, social networks or messengers, as well as running applications originating from unknown sources. It is also advised to constantly update software and install anti-virus software.
Russian tech giant Yandex started testing a new prototype of a delivery robot – Yandex.Rover – on Moscow streets. The robot is only a half-meter tall and resembles a lunar rover on six wheels. It is designed to transport small cargos and is completely autonomous. Yandex.Rover creates the route by itself and avoids obstacles, moving at the speed of a pedestrian. To cross the road the robot uses pedestrian crossings and patiently waits for the green light. The operators monitor robots remotely to promptly react to possible accidents. Initially, Yandex.Rover was used at Yandex headquarters to deliver documents and small items, then tested at Skolkovo technology park near Moscow, and at Innopolis in Tatarstan. Now around a dozen robots can be noticed in various locations. The company plans to engage robots in its services Yandex.Eats and Yandex.Lavka (delivery of fresh groceries and food), and foresees a possibility to cooperate with other business entities dealing with small packages delivery and warehouse logistics.
The Ukrainian Parliament is discussing an updated bill on virtual assets suggesting to recognise them as intangible goods. The proposed bill is a framework act that covers the concept and status of virtual assets, as well as related property rights and conditions for transactions. The detailed mechanisms and procedures will be further elaborated in by-laws. Virtual assets are not intended to be used as a means of payment but can be rather compared to a bank deposit in foreign currency. Among advantages of the bill, authorities name the opportunity for international stock exchanges dealing with virtual assets to legally operate in Ukraine, the provision of legal remedies to owners of virtual assets, and tokenisation of rights. Noteworthy that the country is leading the 2020 Global Crypto Adoption Index in terms of cryptocurrency adoption (out of 154 evaluated countries).
The e-Commerce Association of North Macedonia launched a new e-payment module on its educational web platform dedicated to e-commerce. The module explains the detailed procedure of online transactions, unveils security concerns, shows related opportunities, and clarifies various banks’ conditions for e-payments. The purpose of the module is to introduce users to the concept of payment processor and the institutions offering this service. The creation of an e-commerce platform and continuous development of new educational modules is explained by drastic changes on the market, with increased online shopping and businesses moving online. The module will be equally useful for citizens using e-payment and for small businesses willing to introduce online payment processors into their operations. The Association states that the automatisation of payment processes will directly contribute to the reduction of the shadow economy in the country.
According to a study by the Georgian National Democratic Institute (NDI), 27 percent of the respondents believe that online classes are a major educational challenge in the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Difficulties include low qualifications of teachers (22 percent of respondents) and high costs of education in the universities (20 percent of respondents). Participants also pointed to the lack of modern technology at schools and universities (4 percent of respondents). The survey was conducted in August and covered 2 045 Georgians.
Romanian technology startup Sypher Solutions, providing services for compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), launched a GDPR Virtual Assistant. It offers organisations a comprehensive step by step GDPR implementation guide, while its user-friendly software makes it easy to be used even by employees without basic knowledge of GDPR. The assistant is aimed at decreasing the workload of the data protection officers (DPO) by providing simple instructions on data collection and storage. In return, the DPOs will get more time for data analysis and counseling. Moreover, the assistant can be used as a reporting tool to monitor the compliance progress, reallocate the resources needed to ensure the GDPR conformity, and continuously identify risk areas of the organisation. Apart from the virtual assistant, the company has a dedicated software platform designed to simplify compliance work.
A group of fifteen civil society organisations (CSOs) called on the Parliament of Albania to stop the consideration of the ’anti-defamation package’, a controversial law targeting to tighten control over online media. Despite being widely criticised as a serious threat to media freedom, the law was adopted by the Parliament in December 2019. At the beginning of 2020, President Ilir Mehta vetoed the law calling it unconstitutional, and returned it to the Parliament for reconsideration. Meanwhile, the Venice Commission criticised the law as inappropriate since it could be easily used for violations of freedom of expression. Reportedly, the ruling party aims to pass the disputed law referring to Article 86 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly that obliges the Parliament to reconsider only the issues raised by the President. According to CSOs, this means that the recommendations of the Venice Commission will be bypassed with only minor amendments eventually introduced to the law.
On 17 September, 29 countries from around the world (including a few SEE+ countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia, Ukraine) issued a joint statement condemning Internet shutdowns that followed the presidential elections in Belarus. The statement clearly specifies that shutdowns and blocking or filtering of online services unjustifiably limit the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association and expression. They are especially dangerous in the absence of procedural fairness and transparency. Moreover, the signatories emphasised the importance of human rights protection and urged for an independent investigation.
On 21 September, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation published for public comment a series of amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection, banning encryption protocols that fully hide the traffic’s destination. The proposed ban will affect HTTPS connections using Transport Layer Security (TLS) version 1.3 based on encrypted server name indication (ESNI) and protocols such as DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) and DNS-over-TLS (DoT) that encrypt DNS queries. The authorities explain the prohibition of these protocols by a need to mitigate their adverse effects allowing to bypass all existing filtering and blocking systems in the country.
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.
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.