What’s New in Internet Freedom in Ukraine? Overview of February 1 – March 26, 2019

We regularly monitor incidents and violations of Internet freedom in Ukraine. The results of the monitoring with description are available on our website: netfreedom.org.ua. Please, note, links refer to content published in Ukrainian.

Ukraine

According to experts, subscription fees for the Internet in Ukraine will increase. The Internet will become more expensive in Ukraine in 2019. Providing services at old prices is becoming unprofitable, experts explain. The territory of the country is large, so companies need money to cover their expenses. The dollar exchange rate and utility costs are increasing, which also determines the fees for the Internet. Industry representatives predict that Ukrainians will pay more for the Internet from the middle of this year.

Safer Internet development in Ukraine should be seen through prism of freedom of speech – experts noted during Safer Internet Day. On February 5, Kyiv celebrated ” Safer Internet Day: Threats and Protection”. InAU held a press conference. National security should also be regarded as the aggregate rights of all users, because when all the users are safe, this is the security of the country, said Vitaliy Moroz of NGO Internews-Ukraine. Oleksandr Danchenko, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Committee on Informatization and Communications, said that the Verkhovna Rada and the committee he heads would not ignore “attempts to increase control over the Internet”.

Ukraine ranks fourth in ranking of countries with cheapest mobile Internet.  Worldwide mobile data pricing explored the cost of mobile data services in 230 countries around the world. The Internet is cheaper only in India, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
According to the study, the cheapest Internet in the world is in India and costs an average of $ 0.26 per 1GB of mobile traffic. In Ukraine, the average cost of mobile Internet is  $ 0.51 per 1 GB. The average price of 1 GB of mobile Internet on a global scale is $ 8.53.

SBU proposes to block 100 new Internet sites on eve of Ukrainian elections. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has compiled a list of 100 new sites that “propagandize Russian ideology” and passed it to the National Security and Defense Council for consideration with a proposal to approve the a decision on sanction and recommend to the President of Ukraine that “he sign a new sanction decree”, said Oleksandr Klymchuk, the Head of the department For Counter-Intelligence Protection of the State’s Interests in the Field of Information Security of the SBU. The Internet Freedom project will closely monitor this initiative. A reminder that in May 2018, key media organizations, such as Internews-Ukraine, were sharply critical of presidential decree # 126/2018, which led to the blocking of 200 sites related to the Russian Federation.

Cable operator Lanet claims NewsOne carried out information attack against it. One of the largest cable operators in Ukraine, Lanet, wants to find out who ordered the distribution of “fake cards” with a map of Ukraine without Crimea. It has promised a reward of 100,000 UAH for the receipt of reliable information.  Promotional material included calls to connect to the network and were made in the company’s style. Lanet representatives spotted signs of an information attack in the distribution of postcards and called it a “Kremlin fake” in a post on Facebook.  Immediately after the mysterious distribution of the postcards, a rally was held near the Lanet Customer Service Center, which was broadcast by NewsOne journalists.

Parliament registered draft law on criminal liability for dissemination of inaccurate information. A fine of up to 54,000 UAH, public or correctional labor in accordance with a draft law threatens those who deliberately or accidentally disseminate inaccurate information in the media or on the Internet. The document was registered by an MP from the People’s Front faction, Ihor Lapin. A number of NGOs have already spoken out against the bill. The smallest fine of up to 8,500 UAH is provided for the unintentional dissemination of inaccurate information. The largest, up to 54,000 UAH, is for deliberately spreading accusations of committing a grave or especially grave crime or the dissemination of inaccurate information during the electoral process about the subjects of the election process.

Blocking of Yandex.ru in Ukraine extended for three years. The National Security and Defense Council has strengthened and prolonged for three years sanctions against Yandex, a Russian company. This is stated in decree No. 82/2019 issued by the President of Ukraine. According to the document, sanctions against Yandex are prolonged for three years and stepped up in the part on blocking of assets, restrictions on trading operations.

A reminder that it was at the initiative of NGO Internews-Ukraine, that in June 2018 a number of organizations signed the Declaration of Free Internet, one of the principles of which is that “State regulation of the Internet (if any) should be in line with European practices and based on the principles of proportionality, necessity, sufficiency, transparency of responses to contemporary challenges and threats faced by the country”.

Facebook and the World

Hundreds of Russian accounts and anti-Ukraine pages removed from Facebook. On January 17, 2019, Facebook posted a report on its official blog on the results of countering Russian propaganda and manipulative sources of information. The company removed 107 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook, as well as 41 accounts on Instagram, which were all run from Russia. The administrators of these accounts pretended to be users from Ukraine. The maximum audience of several Facebook pages reached 180,000 users, and 55,000 users on Instagram. To promote manipulative content, the Russians spent $25,000, paid in Russian rubles from Russia. A year ago, in January 2018, an active advertising campaign began. The last one was recorded in December 2018.

Facebook changed its advertising rules on eve of elections in Ukraine, EU, India, and Nigeria. Facebook is developing rules for the use of Facebook for political advertising at every election. The aim is to prevent external interference in the course of election campaigns. In 2019, elections will be held in the European Union, India and Nigeria, and in Ukraine twice. Only advertisers who reside in the country in question will be able to launch Facebook advertising campaigns. In addition, Facebook aims to create universal rules on political advertising by the end of June, which can be applied to advertisers all over the world.

France imposes € 50 million fine on Google. In France, the National Commission for Information Technology and Human Rights (CNIL) has fined Google the sum of €50 million for violating the Personal Data Act (GDPR). The French Commission explained its decision by saying that Google violated the GDPR rule requiring companies to inform consumers in detail about ways to collect and process their personal data and to obtain consent from users for these actions.

Facebook launched procedure for confirming political advertising in Ukraine. The company has asked users who want to launch adverts to provide documents for confirmation of identity and to fill out information about who pays for advertising by March 18. The new rules are published on the Facebook Business Official Site, and are being introduced to improve protection against external interference in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

Russia

Photo RosKomSvobodа

Rallies “For the Freedom of Runet” held in 8 major cities of Russia. Mass rallies against censorship of the Russian Internet took place in Khabarovsk, Chita, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Perm, Naberezhnye Chelny, Voronezh and Moscow. More than 15,000 people protested in the Russian capital. There were 28 arrests. As stated in the statement by event organizers – “Russia is not Iran or North Korea, we are a part of the civilized world. But the authorities of the Putin regime are doing everything to keep us from the West. The web of censorship continues to suffocate our lives. We oppose the adoption of the law on the isolation of Russia from the international network and demand a free Internet”.

Putin signed law on punishment for fake news and disrespect for authorities. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed the “Klishas Package” – a package of laws that introduce blocking and fines for publishing false news in the media and disrespect for the authorities and state symbols on the Internet. A fine of up to 1.5 million rubles ($ 23,300) is imposed for distributing inaccurate news, and showing disrespect of the state entails a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($ 4,670) or arrest. If such information is detected on sites, the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation or his deputies should contact Roskomnadzor with a requirement to stop access to such resources.

The bills were criticized by human rights activists and journalists, who point out that their adoption restricts freedom of speech. In addition, critics drew attention to the uncertainty of the criteria for assigning one or other information to the “fake” category.

Belarus

Regulation of online newsrooms in Belarus: Tut.by registered as a media. On January 21, 2019, the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus registered TUT.BY as an online publication. Registration as a media will enable journalists of Belarus’s largest online resource to receive official accreditation for events. In 2018, amendments to the Law on Mass Media were approved in Belarus, according to which Internet publications may be voluntarily registered as mass media outlets. They are now called “online publications”. The employees of unregistered Internet media outlets are not considered journalists, and state authorities may refuse to provide them with accreditation for official events.

The court found Marina Zolotova guilty of “non-fulfillment of official duties”.

Editor-in-chief of Belarusian publication TUT.by to pay $ 6,400 in fines and litigation costs. The lawsuit against the editor-in-chief of the Belarusian portal TUT.by ended with a verdict that was announced on Monday, March 4. The court found Marina Zolotova guilty of “non-fulfillment of official duties”, which provoked significant damage to the state and public interests of the Republic of Belarus.
The punishment was limited to a fine of 7,650 Belarusian rubles ($ 3,600) and compensation for BelTA’s court costs to the tune of 6,000 Belarusian rubles ($ 2,800). Marina Zolotova will most likely not have to challenge the court decision.

The overview has been written by NGO “Internews Ukraine”.

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