Internet is More or Less Free in Georgia

June 18th, 2011   Theme: Internet Freedom

Regular censorship of the Internet doesn’t exist in Georgia. Though, Internet traffic was stopped for Russian domains during the military conflict with Russia in 2008. And in 2009 two people were jailed for insulting a religious leader in a video clips posted on YouTube. One potential source of concern is the legislative amendments made in September 2010. According to this the Internet and email operators are required to disclose private conversations (provided there is a court order).

Georgia is since 2008 governed by the United National Movement, a centre-right party. The country is in many respects a model for other states in the region. The last two elections got good reviews from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The developments in Georgia show that democratization and true respect for human rights and freedoms go hand in hand with prosperity and a better living for all. Democratic structures have been strengthened and the economy has evolved. A successful effort to combat corruption has been initiated in collaboration with the EU. Important reforms have been made in the education and social sectors.

Internet use in Georgia is still low – 1.3 million people, or just over 28% of the population use Internet regular basis. But usage is growing rapidly: In 2000, only 0.5 percent of the population used the Net compared to nearly a third today! All according to statistics from the ITU, the UN agency for information and communication technology.

The urban population accounts for the bulk of Internet users, and the main barriers to increased usage are high prices and poor infrastructure. This creates a gap between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor.

The usage of the Internet in the field of politics is rather low. Few politicians are active online, and there are only some hundred blogs in the Georgian language, which deals with politics. In general minorities and minority organizations are relatively invisible on the Net.

The market for Internet service providers is relatively free, and there are 19 players, two of which dominate. Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) is responsible for the Internet market and licensing of operators. This authority is considered by Freedom House to be fair and impartial, but is criticized for not making any difference in handling new and old media. It is said that this might constitute a risk, that the same lack of transparency and bureaucracy existing in traditional media, eventually may include Internet and mobile telephony operators.

In Georgia there is no specific legislation regulating the Internet and new media, and there is, as the OSCE noted in its report, Freedom of Expression, a risk that the future Internet legislation might include about censorship, surveillance and restrictions. The lack of legislation means that the Internet is free and uncensored. Though, at the same time the authorities are having trouble dealing with illegal actions such as pirate copying.

Regular censorship of the Internet doesn’t exist in Georgia. Though, Internet traffic was stopped for Russian domains during the military conflict with Russia in 2008. And in 2009 two people were jailed for insulting a religious leader in a video clips posted on YouTube. Today cyber attacks from Russia are the biggest threat to Georgian Internet users. Since 2008, both the Georgian authorities and individual users have been subjected to small- and large-scale hacker attacks from Russia. Whether the attacks have been carried out by Russian authorities or private individuals is unclear.

One potential source of concern is the legislative amendments made in September 2010. According to this the Internet and email operators are required to disclose private conversations (provided there is a court order).

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