Internet Freedom in Georgia – Report N3-4

News | Research | Media Internet Telecommunications | Publications 16 September 2014

In attempt to have clear and comprehensive picture about current developments regarding internet and e-governance in Georgia, this report examines statistical data on internet users, major plans and efforts of government to improve access to internet and electronic services among citizens. Moreover, it covers international reports regarding Georgia, displaying performance of the country in terms of e-governance and other related issues. Finally, the study touches upon the issues of online media and protection of users’ rights.


Analysis of the gained statistical data on internet users displayed that:

  • Despite the growing tendency of the number of internet users, accessibility of wired internet has not seen significant positive changes over the past years;
  • In case of both wired and mobile internet, dominance of two companies is noticeable on the market. In case of wired internet, these companies include Caucasus Online and Silknet, as for mobile internet, Geocell and Magticom hold dominant positions.
  • Internet penetration is the significant challenge for the regions of Georgia. Even though wireless internet has been developing in such regions recently, it is necessary for the Government to take effective steps towards working out supporting programs in this direction and coordinated work between any actors connected to internet market.

 

Development of e-services and access to internet is significantly interconnected. On one hand, lack of access to internet makes existence of most advanced e-services nonfunctional. On the other hand, however, even if the total majority of population has good access to internet, this does not ensure their involvement in social and political activities. Although Georgia has seen gradual improvement in terms of e-service development, which has resulted in improvement of UN e-Government Survey score, there is still substantial gap between development and access to electronic services, services delivered with the help of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (hereinafter referred to as e-services). The central government tends to spend more resources on development of such e-services that are intended for internal use, while there are less citizen-oriented electronic resources (hereinafter referred to as e-resources), defined as “any work encoded and made available for access through the use of a computer” . Also, the Ministries are not extensively using services of online media.


As for internet infrastructure development, since there is no strategy devoted to broadband access in Georgia yet, attempts to increase internet penetration are limited to individual projects such as internetization of schools, Community Centers, Computer Centers, Georgian Public Libraries etc. There are substantial developments in terms of back office infrastructure, including such initiatives as data exchange infrastructure, interoperability infrastructure, registry of registries, catalogue of services etc. The web-development costs of the Ministries are not significant and are mostly associated with web-space and domain name purchase, creation of new websites, update of certificate of security encryption etc. As for e-Security , while Georgian first Cyber Security Strategy of Georgia and Action Plan (2012-2015) is in force, efforts are needed for its duly implementation and ensuring whole-of-government approach to e-Security. CERT.GOV.GE created under Data Exchange Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia offers most services (e.g. free penetration tests, incident response, network monitoring, safe DNS server, IP address monitoring etc.) for ensuring e-Security in Georgia.


Analysis of studies prepared by international organizations demonstrated that growing tendency with regard to internet penetration is sustained in Georgia. Despite stabile political and business environment, Georgia has main challenges in the direction of developing innovative technologies and using their benefits thoroughly. This can be attributed to, on one hand, low level of absorption of latest technologies by business sector and on the other hand, lack of sufficient level of education/system and necessary skills and abilities.


The advent of social networks and diverse online platforms stimulated online activism among Georgian internet users. At the same time, online media became one of the main sources of alternative information. Nevertheless, observation revealed that major challenges for online media include financial sustainability, professionalism of journalists and lack of necessary skills and resources for creating diverse content.


Although not commonplace, violations of rights in internet still take place, such as disclosure of personal data information by companies, as indicated in the first report of Personal Data Protection Inspector. The most severe cases of infringements upon privacy have been revealed as a result of illegal surveillance and wiretapping by the governmental agencies, also via illegal intrusion into computer systems, among others. These conditions have caused a number of CSOs to start a campaign “This Affects You - They Are Still Listening” aimed at advocating legislative changes to control illegal surveillance by the government. The Ministry of Internal Affairs was not entirely supportive of the suggested package of legislative amendments, and although the changes were passed by the third hearing of the Parliament in August 2014, one of the most important clauses limiting direct access of public agencies to surveillance data has been removed under condition to be regulated by November 2014. Some of further positive changes are connected with Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative, within the framework of which recommendations on improving legislation and proactive transparency on surveillance as well as improved access to the MIA Statistical Data, suggested by IDFI along with other CSOs, have been accepted by the Georgian government to be included in Georgian 2014-2015 OGP Action Plan.


Regarding institutions responsible for protection of users’ rights, there have been a number of significant changes recently. Election of a new Public Defender of the Consumers’ Rights, a position that has been vacant for almost ten years, is one of the biggest recent advantages in terms of internet users’ rights protection in Georgia. Creation of an independent agency is important in terms of access to information on appealing process; however, effectiveness of the office of the public defender should be mainly evaluated against the extent of revealed and solved problems, in this light further reports of GNCC and the first report of Public Defender of the Consumers’ Rights will be of special interest. Importantly, new legislative amendments on surveillance also increased powers of Personal Data Protection Inspector, making the body accountable to the Parliament rather than the Prime Minister and giving it such additional powers as access to recordings of crime and operational-investigative activities including information classified as state secret and right to inspect any organization without any prior notification etc. Besides, www.freedomtointernet.com is an additional independent tool for monitoring and improving state of internet freedom not only in Georgia but also in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 

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