On October 18, 2022, Freedom House published an annual report on Internet freedom around the world. In 2022, Georgia obtained a score of 78 out of 100 and was assessed as “Free” in terms of Internet freedom. The country’s score improved by 1 point compared to 2021. The major reason for score improvement is a lack of large-scale cyberattacks compared to previous years.
Despite the mentioned improvement, the report highlighted several challenges:
- Leaked files depicting civil society representatives, journalists, clergy, and opposition leaders demonstrated the scope of state surveillance practices;
- During the coverage period, journalists during the October 2021 local elections and Tbilisi Pride activists in June 2021 were subject to physical attacks.
At the same time, among the key developments between June 2019 and May 2020, the adoption of changes to the Law on Information Security is underlined. The changes increased the powers of the Operative Technical Agency (OTA), a branch of the State Security Service, in terms of overseeing the country’s cybersecurity architecture.
According to the report, Georgian citizens face some infrastructural obstacles to accessing the internet, however, internet access grows gradually. Based on the data of the National Statistics Office, about 88.4 percent of households enjoyed access to the internet. However, there is a digital divide between big cities and rural areas, as well as age groups. Another challenge is the quality and speed of internet service. Testing performed by the company Ookla in May 2022 demonstrated that the median download speed for a fixed internet connection was 19.8 megabits per second (Mbps). While the median download speed for a mobile internet connection amounted to 32 Mbps.
Freedom House report also touches upon the issue of the distribution of internet users among several Internet service providers (ISPs). It is argued that the ICT market is dominated by a handful of large companies. Two private ISPs control more than three-fourths of the fixed broadband market, while the mobile Internet market is also dominated by three main providers.
Concerning the performance of the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), the main regulatory body for the telecommunications sector, it is noted that it was criticized for initiation the legislative changes giving itself the power to appoint “special managers” at telecommunications companies, which were eventually adopted with particular modifications.
Regarding the level of internet freedoms in the country, the report argues that online users can freely use social networks for disseminating information, mobilizing people for a common cause, and waging online campaigns.
There are few cases of restrictions on online content in the country. In this context, it is noted that in December 2021, the authorities banned the advertising of online gaming businesses, and the age limit for online participation in gambling and winning games was raised to 25 years. The changes came into force in March 2022.
The use of attempts of online content manipulation from the pro-government and other domestic political actors, especially during political crises and election campaign were regarded as one of the challenges for the country. In 2020-2021, Facebook deleted dozens of pages and accounts disseminating fake and false information. According to the report, the Georgian audience was also a target of Russian information campaigns on the issues such as Covid pandemic, vaccination, 5G technology, etc.
Online platforms, especially Facebook, are actively used to organize demonstrations on various issues. Among other examples, the report mentions solidarity rallies after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, participants of which criticized the ambiguous statements of government officials, including the Prime Minister, regarding Ukraine.
In the context of digital rights, it is noted that although there are legal guarantees in this regard, the lack of independence of the judiciary is the main obstacle to the country's democratic consolidation.
Over the years, the issue of secret surveillance has remained a problem. In June 2022, the Parliament of Georgia adopted controversial legislative amendments, according to which the time limit for covert investigative actions and the list of crimes for which covert surveillance can be carried out were increased.
Although the President vetoed the bill, the parliament overruled the veto in September of the same year.
Evaluation of each country includes a detailed narrative report and a numerical score based on three categories: an obstacle to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. The 2022 report covers the period between June 2021 and May 2022.
The detailed report is available here.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
Civil society organizations appeal to the European Commission to increase oversight over Georgia’s implementation of 12 priorities14.12.2022
Georgia is the Only Country that Has Yet to Join the OECD Anti-Corruption Assessment Process21.11.2022
Soviet Roots of Anti-Western Propaganda20.12.2022