Georgia retains its place among the “free” countries with freedom on the net, according to the latest report released by Freedom House, the U.S.-based rights watchdog, on October 14. The score of the country has increased by one point compared to last year, coming in at 76 (on a scale of 0-100).
The report, covering the developments between June 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020, says that “digital freedom is generally protected in Georgia,” however “several challenges related to the increase in the number of cyberattacks and in domestic content manipulation were observed during the coverage period.”
“Georgia holds regular and competitive elections, and its democratic trajectory showed signs of improvement during the period surrounding a change in government in 2012–13. However, progress has stagnated in recent years,” the report notes, adding that “even though rates of internet access continue to grow, government efforts to expand internet infrastructure have stalled.”
Divided into three major parts, the report describes the situation in the countries in terms of obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights, which are then divided into subcategories with individual scoring that are summed up in the overall score.
Obstacles to access
Georgia’s score regarding obstacles to internet access remains at 19 out of 25. The report notes that despite some infrastructural obstacles, internet access and mobile penetration rates have continued to grow in recent years, with internet access being generally affordable. However, “many users complained about the poor quality of connections, especially during the COVID-19,” while average download speed for a fixed internet connection “lags behind other countries in the region including Armenia, Russia and Ukraine.”
The report takes note of concerns regarding Silknet and Magticom controlling more than three-fourths of the information and communications technology (ICT) market, albeit noting that “such concentration has not significantly affected pricing and service.”
Noting that Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) has been criticized by civil society groups for “working hand in hand with the ruling Georgian Dream party,” Freedom House states that after the report coverage period, GNCC initiated “contentious amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications, giving itself the power to appoint special managers at telecommunications companies who will enforce its decisions.”
Limits on content
Georgia’s score has improved in the category, increasing by one point to 31 out of 35. The report notes that “a problematic regulation governing inadmissible content on the internet was invalidated during the coverage period, removing a major restriction on Georgia’s online environment,” but on the other hand, “revelations about domestic political actors’ use of inauthentic social media accounts raised concerns about the pollution of this environment.”
The U.S.-based watchdog reports that according to the latest transparency reports, from Facebook, Google and Twitter, the Government of Georgia did not issue any content takedown requests during the coverage periods.
Freedom House takes note of April 2020 and December 2019 removals of accounts, groups and pages that appeared to be affiliated with the ruling Georgian Dream party and the United National Movement for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” as well as Russian information campaigns targeting Georgian audience online.
“The government continued to fund online news outlets that spread biased news. Some have links to the Russian government and have been known to push anti-European and anti-U.S. agendas,” the report adds.
Violations of user rights
Georgia’s score in the category remained the same, at 26 out of 40. The report asserts that user rights are well protected in Georgia, noting that during the coverage period, there were fewer prosecutions for protected online activities. However, the report adds, “the country was menaced by several cyberattacks,” and that “contentious amendments threatened to give a body under the State Security Service overboard powers in the realm of cybersecurity.”
Freedom House notes that cyberattacks became a significant issue in Georgia during the coverage period, recalling the October 2019 cyberattack on Georgia, which investigation found to have been carried out by Russia’s GRU, as well as the August 2019 cyberattack on “an opposition-affiliated broadcaster, TV Pirveli.”
“There are few laws that assign criminal or civil penalties for online expression,” the report notes, adding that “Georgians are generally free to express themselves online without fear of legal penalties.”
Although digital rights are “protected in the constitution and legal framework,” the U.S.-based watchdog voices concern regarding the “limited independence” of the judiciary.
- Georgia in Freedom House’s COVID-19 Report
- Detailed Freedom House ‘Nations in Transit’ Report on Georgia
- 2019: Georgia in Freedom House’s Internet Freedom Report