SEEsummary #51

September 2021

Issue no. 51 of the SEEsummary, published on 6 October 2021, by SEEDIG. This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in September 2021. Also included: a list of upcoming events in October and ongoing registrations for regional and international events.

Country contributors to this issue: Alexandra Asgari, Maja Ćalović, Katarina Gevorgyan. Editors: Meri Baghdasaryan, Maja Ćalović, Grațiela Dumitrescu, Aleksandra Ivanković, Neli Odishvili. Coordination and final editing: Olga Kyryliuk. Design: Charalampos Kyritsis.

Telecommunications infrastructure

Bosnia and Herzegovina started the shutdown of analogue TV signal at the request of the Croatian Regulatory Authority for Networks Industries (HAKOM). HAKOM’s demand, first raised in April 2021, aimed to eliminate interference from nearby Bosnia and Herzegovina that posed an obstacle to introducing the 5G network in Croatia. According to the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the shutdown of analogue transmitters during 2021 in an accelerated manner is a consequence of not completing the transition to digital TV broadcasting under the country’s international obligation on time. The regulatory authority informed all associations of licensees about the request from Croatia five months ago.

Privacy and data protection

SHARE Foundation, a Serbian nonprofit organisation, published the first Media Privacy Index, assessing the practices of 50 Serbian online media outlets regarding their adherence to personal data protection standards. The research methodology was based on global and local standards for data protection as well as journalistic ethics. The relevant Serbian law entered into force two years ago, but some media did not fully harmonise their online practices with the prescribed principles, while the others use intrusive measures. SHARE Foundation plans to repeat the monitoring periodically.

The recent Draft Law on Internal Affairs, which was open for public debate until mid-September, contains legal provisions allowing mass biometric surveillance in public spaces in Serbia. Some civil society organisations demanded from the authorities to declare a moratorium on the use of advanced technologies equipped with facial recognition function that enables capturing and processing of large amounts of sensitive personal data in real-time. If legal provisions on mass biometric surveillance in public spaces are adopted, Serbia will become the first country in Europe with non-selective surveillance of all citizens. The European advocacy network, European Digital Rights (EDRi), submitted an official letter to Serbia’s government stating that the provisions on establishing a system for mass collection, processing and automatic analysis of biometric and other sensitive personal data are incompatible with the guarantees of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Serbia ratified in 2004.

Content policy

According to Freedom House’s newly published report Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech, global tendencies shifted dramatically toward greater government intervention in the digital sphere, causing global Internet freedom to decline for the eleventh consecutive year. The report, covering developments between June 2020 and May 2021, ranks countries from ‘0’ (least free) to ‘100’ (most free). The Internet freedom in the eight SEE+ countries assessed in the report is qualified as free in Georgia (with a total score of 77), Armenia (71) and Serbia (71), partly free in Ukraine (62), and not free in Azerbaijan (35), Turkey (34), Belarus (31), and Russia (30). All countries applied at least some of the Key Internet Controls (KICs) during the monitored period, namely: blocking of social media or communications platforms (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine); blocking of political, social, or religious content (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine); deliberate disruption of ICT networks (Azerbaijan, Belarus); manipulation of online discussions by pro-government commentators (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine); adoption of a new regulation increasing censorship (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey) or surveillance (Turkey, Ukraine); arrest or physical attack on blogger or ICT user for political or social content (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine); and technical attacks against government critics or human rights organisations (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine).

Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED) published a report urging Kosovo* to counter Russian media disinformation. The think tank analysed statements, press conferences, articles and other documents from Russia posted from 1 June to 15 August 2021 and concluded that 19.2 percent of them contained misinformation. The report claims that media misinformation aims to undermine Kosovo*’s statehood and Western engagement in Kosovo* and the region. Moreover, it further urges the Kosovar government to address Russian media misinformation that seeks to change the narratives on Kosovo*’s statehood and sovereignty. The full report can be accessed here.

In the  SEEsummary issue no. 50 we reported the opening of administrative court proceedings against two social media companies, Twitter and Facebook, by Tagansky District Court of Moscow in Russia. In mid-September, the court eventually fined both companies for failing to delete illegal content. Overall, Facebook received five penalties for a total of 21 million rubles (approx. USD 287 850), while Twitter ended up with two charges for a total of 5 million rubles. Additionally, the court fined Telegram for 9 million rubles. 

Moreover, according to the Interfax news agency, Russia’s federal bailiff announced measures to enforce the court decision on Google to remove references to “smart voting” in its keyword search system earlier the same month. This move came against the attempts made by activists supporting jailed opposition politician Navalny to promote a tactical voting campaign during the parliamentary elections. Similarly, Yandex removed the tactical voting website from its search engine, while  Apple and Google deleted Navalny’s app from their app stores.

Starting from November this year, Russia introduces new taxes on foreign-owned digital services. This decision pursues two goals: supporting an international effort to tax large tech companies that move their profits to low-tax jurisdictions and encouraging national digital services providers.

Cybersecurity and cybercrime

According to preliminary results of the 2021 Geography of Cryptocurrency report published by Chainalysis, Eastern Europe is severely affected by illicit cryptocurrency-related activities. The data demonstrates extreme rates of illegal transactions, which makes the region stand next to Africa for scam exposure. Still, its overall crypto economy is much larger than that of Africa. Allegedly, Eastern Europe sends more cryptocurrency to darknet markets than any other region due to the involvement in the Hydra Market. When it comes to country-level data, Ukraine has the highest web traffic to scam websites than any other country, which is more than double compared to the second ranked-USA. The full report will be published in October.

On 16 September 2021, Armenia and Europol signed a strategic cooperation agreement to enhance bilateral relations in combating cross-border criminal activities. The signatories will regularly exchange all necessary information and join forces against migrant smuggling, cybercrime, drug trafficking, asset recovery, money laundering, organised property crime and trafficking in human beings. The agreement leads to the secondment of an Armenian Liaison Officer to Europol.

The newly created National Cyber Security Directorate in Romania replaced the National Cyber Security Incident Response Team (CERT-RO) to ensure the necessary cyber security performance at the national level. The Directorate aims to establish a coherent and resilient cybersecurity architecture in the country. It will play a vital role in implementing the new National Cyber Security Strategy and ensuring Romania’s compliance with international commitments, including those related to the EU Cybersecurity Strategy, the NIS and NIS 2.0 Directive. By bringing together key actors from state institutions, the private sector and academia, the Directorate will promote the increase of human resources in the cybersecurity field in the country and contribute to reforming and developing civilian cybersecurity capabilities while creating and supporting a new cybersecurity ecosystem.

Capacity development

September marked a double celebration for the Armenian TUMO Center for Creative Technologies – the 10th anniversary since its establishment and the opening of a new TUMO building in Gyumri. During the official public event, TUMO representatives announced a 5-year extension plan of the learning program to cover Armenia and Artsakh and reach thousands of students and young Armenians, including those from rural areas. The initiative will need 50 million USD to be sustained. The Center already received the first donation of 10 million USD and started a fundraising campaign for the remaining 40 million USD. Opening TUMO centres outside Armenia is a part of the extension strategy. Such centres are already functioning in Paris, Beirut, Moscow, Tirana and Berlin. A new TUMO centre was recently opened in Kyiv. 

Cooperation

In the SEEsummary issue no. 50, we already mentioned the draft cybercrime treaty submitted by Russia for UN consideration. The negotiation procedure will kick off in January 2022. In mid-September, a comprehensive academic analysis of this draft text was published. According to the research authors, the draft treaty submitted by Russia significantly differs from the existing cybercrime regulatory framework. The document reflects an ambition to create an all-in-one comprehensive legal instrument for combating cybercrime. It covers multiple issues, including substantive law, procedural instruments, mutual legal assistance, international cooperation and preventive measures. The proposed terminology differs from the one established in the Council of Europe Budapest Convention and includes new terms and definitions. Instead of using well-known definitions of ‘computer data’ and ‘computer system’, the Russian draft introduces a new term of ‘electronic information’, which is not explicitly defined but is applied throughout the document’s text. The draft is far-reaching in terms of crimes related to terrorism and extremism but selective when it comes to including other kinds of cyber-enabled crime. The document is strongly focused on cybercrime capacity-building and awareness-raising. To read more, check the full analysis.

Information society & Digital economy

Passed by the Ukrainian parliament with 276 votes in favor, the bill on virtual assets in Ukraine will enter into force once President Volodymyr Zelensky signs it. The new law offers legal guarantees to virtual assets owners, protects exchange platforms from fraud and defines key terms that were not reflected in Ukrainian legislation until now, such as virtual currency wallet, private key, etc. The Ministry of Digital Transformation, the National Bank of Ukraine and the National Securities Commission will be the primary regulators. Crypto businesses will be able to work and pay taxes officially in Ukraine. Cryptocurrencies are not becoming an alternative means of payment alongside the country’s national currency – hryvnia. However, Ukrainians can own, exchange and trade cryptocurrencies using local or foreign exchange platforms registered in Ukraine.

The Central Bank of Turkey announced the formation of the Digital Turkish Lira Collaboration Platform to research the potential benefits of digital currency. Additionally, the Central Bank signed memorandums of understanding with Turkish companies and research centres to carry out the research, development and testing phases. The results of the first stage of the pilot study will be announced in 2022.

Upcoming opportunities

Upcoming deadlines

SEEDIG is inviting all interested stakeholders to a joint brainstorming event with the United Nations Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and South-Eastern European (SEE) national IGF initiatives on improving the efficiency of IGF processes and transforming them from once-a-year same-people-talking-same-things events into permanently operational platforms that bring together problem owners and decision owners. It is the 4th event within this year’s SEEDIG 7 Series. The event will feature a capacity-building workshop on strengthening regional and inter-regional cooperation between IGF initiatives. Detailed information and agenda are available on a dedicated event webpage. Registration is obligatory via this form.

The United Nations Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) invites registrations for the 16th IGF, which will be hosted by the Government of Poland under the overarching theme: “Internet United”. The IGF aims at bringing together participants from different ‎stakeholder groups and some of the most prominent individuals in the global Internet ‎governance discussion from across the globe. This year, IGF will run in a hybrid format from 6 to 10 December 2021. Interested stakeholders can consult a quick guide on the registration process, illustrating registration requirements depending on the participation mode: online or in-person in Katowice, Poland. Registration is obligatory via this form.

Upcoming events

​Digital Summit for the Western Balkans | 11-13 October 2021 | Podgorica, Montenegro

Synopsis Summit | 11-15 October 2021 | Online

RIPE NCC Open House: Internet in Greece | 13 October 2021 | Online

SEEDIG 7 Series | SEE brain netting: How to build more inclusive and efficient Internet governance? | 15 October 2021 | Online

Digital Trust 2025| 15 October 2021 | Online

Eurocrypt 2021 | 17-21 October 2021 | Zagreb, Croatia

Moldova IGF | 19-20 October 2021 | Chisinau, Moldova

ITU Forum on Future Networks and C&I | 19-22 October 2021 | St.Petersburg, Russia

Webrazzi Summit | 20 October 2021 | Istanbul, Turkey

Global Encryption Day | 21 October 2021 | Online

HackConf 2021 | 22-23 October 2021 | Online

ICANN 72 | 25-28 October 2021 | Online

Uniting the twin transitions: There is no Green Deal without digital | 27 October 2021 | Online

ITU 2021 Global CyberDrill Trainings | Throughout October 2021 | Online

Editorial note

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.