News Box

Digital Rights in the Time of COVID-19

BIRN and SHARE Foundation are bringing you the latest updates and cases of arbitrary arrests, surveillance, phone tapping, privacy breaches and other digital rights violations as countries of Central and Southeast Europe impose emergency legislation to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, some governments are enhancing surveillance, increasing censorship, and restricting the free flow of information. As our lives moved from the public to the digital sphere, many freedoms were also suspended, while the burden of responsibility for violations fell on citizens as governments imposed restrictions that, in many cases, flouted normal standards of human rights.

By the 23rd of March, 80 people have been arrested, some of them jailed, for spreading fake news and disinformation, with the most draconian examples in Turkey, Serbia, Hungary and Montenegro.

Governments in Montenegro and Moldova made public the personal health data of people infected with COVID-19, while official websites and hospital computer systems suffered cyberattacks in Croatia and Romania. Some countries like Slovakia are considering lifting rights enshrined under the EU General Data Protection Regulation, while Serbia imposed surveillance and phone tracking to limit freedom of movement.

 

Over 40% Children in Rural Romania Did Not Get Online Education

Amid school closures and a lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, more than 40 per cent of Romanian children from rural communities were not offered online education, a study by the World Vision Romania foundation shows.

Only 64 per cent of teachers working in rural areas made online courses available, the study, dedicated to the effects of the lockdown in rural Romania, reports. 

Additionally, around 40 per cent of the parents could not cover all the food requirements for their families as a result of the restrictions imposed to curb the pandemic.

Romanian Conservative NGO Posts Fake Picture Promoting Anti-COVID-19 March

Romania’s influential conservative NGO Coalition for Family, which denounces the government’s measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 as a violation of civil rights, posted a photo of a massively attended techno-music festival held in Zurich last year as if it was taken at a much less visited march recently organised by coronavirus sceptics in Berlin.

The NGO apologised and took down the image after the Romanian news portal G4Media revealed where the photo was actually taken.

WB Countries Still Lead in COVID-19 Infection Rate

All six Western Balkan countries continue to be among the top 10 European countries with the highest rise of infected people per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the joint statistics of Eurostat and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control for July 30.

With Luxemburg at the top of the list, Montenegro is in the second spot with 239 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Kosovo is in third, with Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia following closely behind. Serbia is in the sixth spot with 79 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, while Albania is the last in the top 10 European countries most poorly affected hit by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of infections.

Serbian Citizens Can Now Receive PCR Test Result via Online Channels

Citizens of Serbia, who have been tested for COVID-19, can now automatically receive their PCR test results via email or text message, if they leave their contact during the testing process. They will also still be able to apply to receive a notification about their results on the eUprava portal. 

The director of the government’s IT and Electronic administration office said that citizens no longer need to go to the health institutions to pick up their results and risk infection. He also explained that these services will constantly and automatically inform citizens about their results.

UN Human Rights Experts Warn of Closing Digital Space Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

On July 30, UN human rights experts warned of increased patterns of closing of digital spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN Special Rapporteurs* attending the annual RightsCon conference on human rights in the digital age, the first fully online, stressed that “COVID-19 has made us even more reliant on digital technologies and the space they create for civic engagement. With the closing of civic space and restrictions on offline media, access to universal, open, affordable, secure, and stable Internet is vital to save lives, to prevent abuses, to continue to promote and protect human rights and urgently increase access to information”.

Croatia Launches New ‘STOP COVID-19’ Tracing App

Croatia has joined a number of other European countries which have introduced coronavirus contact tracing mobile applications, launching its very own ‘STOP COVID-19’ app on Monday.

“The goal of our application is to improve the epidemiological picture,” Croatian Health Minister Vili Beros said during the launch, adding that that the application will not do geolocation tracking.

“The application is voluntary, cyber-secured, it uses only temporary and anonymous data, [there will be] no collection of user’s data And its success is based on conscientious and solidary participation of citizens,” Beros said.

Romanian Opposition Leader Spreads Coronavirus-Related Fake News

Leader of Romania’s opposition Social Democratic Party, Marcel Ciolacu, was called out on Tuesday by local media for posting fake news regarding the price of COVID-19 tests in Germany in order to attack the government.

According to the news portal Digi24.ro, Ciolacu said in a TV interview on Monday night that the same COVID-19 tests that cost up to 80 euros in Romania are priced at around 17 or 18 euros in Germany. 

Ciolacu has apparently taken the figure regarding this price from a piece of fake news that included a manipulated photo of an invoice of a test taken in Germany. The real price, 78.74 euros was transformed into 18.74, G4Media reported. The fake picture was circulated via Facebook by a former communications official of the Social Democratic Party among others.

Opposition Leader Spreads False Information From Fake Photo

Parliament speaker and opposition leader Marcel Ciolacu claimed that COVID-19 tests in Germany cost only 18 euros as opposed to the 80 euros that they cost in Romania. The information appears to have been taken from a manipulated photo of the invoice of a test made in Germany that is making the rounds in Romania and the rest of the region.

Slovenian Worshipers to Provide Phone Numbers When Entering Churches

As a new measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Slovenia, believers will be asked to leave their telephone numbers in boxes at the entrances to churches before mass.

The measure comes into force on Tuesday and is applied only on Sundays and holidays. For week-day masses, worshipers can forgo this step, as there are fewer congregating.

In neighbouring Croatia, where every gathering of more than 100 people must be reported to the authorities, including a list with attendees’ names, such instructions do not apply to religious events. Krunoslav Capak, the director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, said last week that “this is impossible because one doesn’t know who will come and there is no one at the entrance who make a list of people”.

Old Article About COVID-19 Quarantine in Skopje Circulates on Social Media

Old information about the introduction of government-issued preventative measures against COVID-19 in Skopje was posted and circulated on social media. Over the past few days, an old SDK article had been recycled and presented as a new one which many shared on their social media profiles.

Representatives for the news agency pointed out that the article dates back to a few months ago, and warned citizens that they should not succumb to such manipulations.

Retired Pediatrician Shares Misinformation About COVID-19

The fact-checking website Faktograf reported that Nada Jurincic, a retired pediatrician and known opponent of vaccination and critic of pandemic measures, often shares misinformation about the pandemic on social networks. In her latest Facebook post, for example, she urged parents not to put masks on their children because, she claimed, it will cause hypoxia.

Survey: Slovenians Unwilling to Use Contact Tracing App

Only about a quarter of Slovenians are willing to voluntarily use a contact tracing mobile app designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a survey conducted by the Valicon agency suggests.

Slightly less than 60 per cent of citizens would do it if it were prescribed as a legal obligation. Two-thirds say they do not trust government guarantees that the app would not be misused to track people, their geolocation and other private, protected data, the survey found.

Valicon conducted the survey between July 10 and 13, shortly after a law passed in Slovenian parliament which provides the legal basis for introducing an app to track contacts, despite the public critics.

Eight Arrested in Romania for Online Mask-Selling Scam

Romanian Police on Thursday arrested eight people under the suspicion that the organised a criminal group that pretended to sell protective masks on social networks, but instead delivered toilet paper rolls to victims.

The delivery was made through a courier company and the victims paid for what they thought that were masks upon receiving their packages.

The group operated in southern Romania and scammed as many as 89 people.

Man Questioned for Criticizing COVID Measures on Facebook

Police questioned Damjan Abramovic from Budva for a Facebook post about the epidemiological situation. On July 14, Abramovic called for protests on his Facebook account, demanding the resignation of the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases’ members. Abramovic said that he was only warning about the rising numbers of coronavirus infections in the country and about the wrong preventive measures being taken.

Doctor spreads false information about COVID-19

The fact-checking website, Faktograf recorded several times that Dr Srecko Sladoljev, a notable opponent of vaccination, is sharing incorrect information about COVID-19 on his Facebook account.

On Tuesday, the website noted that many Facebook users are sharing his earlier statements that coronavirus is “a harmless virus that has visited humans 200 times already”. On July 3, he posted a message on Facebook claiming that the World Health Organization, WHO, was financing a “global fraud” about the pandemic, the pandemic was a lie and people do not die from coronavirus. Faktograf said the post has been shared thousands of times.

Romanian Police Investigates Death Threat Towards COVID-19 Response Team Head

Police in Romania on Tuesday opened an investigation into the death threats received by the Secretary of State and COVID-19 National response team head, Raed Arafat.

The suspect threatened Arafat, who is of Arab origin, with “burying him near a pig head” and demanded him to “leave this [Romanian] territory”.

The suspect is a man from the central Romanian city of Alba Iulia and posted this message on Facebook, where he promoted theories denying the existence of the novel coronavirus.

Romanian President Blasts “Conspiracy Theorists” Who Deny COVID-19

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Tuesday criticised “conspiracy theorists” who say that “the disease [COVID-19] doesn’t exist” and insisted that the novel coronavirus “exists and has a devastating impact” – after hundreds of people took to the streets in recent days to protest the precautionary restrictions imposed by the government to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The movement that Iohannis was referring to and associates making mandatory the wearing a mask with the suppression of civil rights, heavily promotes its protests and messages on Facebook.

Iohannis also criticised the opposition Social Democratic Party, PSD, for delaying the adoption of the so-called quarantine law, which had to be amended after the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional. 

The PSD’s attitude, Iohannis said, “can cost dozens, even hundreds of Romanians’ lives”, as the lack of this sort of legislation prevents the government from forcing those who are suspected of having the disease to quarantine and making it mandatory to keep patients who tested positive in hospitals.

Twitter Users Post Fake North Macedonia Election Results

Several Twitter users posted fake results ahead of the parliamentary elections in North Macedonia, which will be held on July 15.

The users claimed that ballots cast by people who are voting earlier than the rest of the electorate, because they have COVID-19 or are in self-isolation, showed that the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE won the majority of the votes.

Fake Govt Document on COVID Sent to Health Officials

Romanian authorities have warned against an email being sent to public health officials that looks as if it was written and signed by Romania’s COVID-19 chief, in which he asks local health authorities to report fake numbers of infections and coronavirus-related deaths.

Government Accused of Paying People to Say They Have COVID

The former mayor of the town of Budva and member of opposition Democratic Front, Marko Carevic, said the Montenegrin government was paying citizens “to claim they are COVID-19 infected”.

On July 10, Carevic told the media that people in the north of Montenegro were being paid 200 euros to claim they had coronavirus and stay in self isolation, while those in the hospitals are paid 500 euros. The head of the Institute for Public Health, Boban Mugosa, accused him of publishing falsehoods and called on Carevic to visit infected people on ventilators in hospitals.

Montenegro Activist Grilled for Facebook Post on Serbian Protests

Montenegrin police on Thursday questioned the civic activist and member of the “Odupri se (Resist)” movement, Omer Sarkic, for a Facebook post about the recent protests in Serbia.

In an ironic post, Sarkic called on the opposition Democratic front to stage protests in front of the Serbian embassy in Podgorica over police brutality against protesters in Belgrade. He stated a fictional press release in which the DF warned that it will resist police brutality in Serbia as it does in Montenegro.

Read more here

Oslobođenje Publishes Fake News About Aerial Spray

On July 8, the portal of the daily Oslobodjenje newspaper published an article titled, “Mysterious airplane flies above Butmir: are we being sprayed with corona, concerned citizens wonder?”, claiming that a plane had been releasing a “mysterious powder” over the city, as was allegedly reported by anonymous citizens.

The portal Raskrinkavanje published a content analysis, finding that it was fake news. The state agency for air traffic BHANSA found no trace of a similar flight in its records of takeoffs and landings. In the meantime, Oslobodjenje retracted the article.

Slovenia PM Calls for Mandatory Coronavirus Tracing App

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa has called for a uniform coronavirus tracing app for the whole of Europe, adding that such apps should be made mandatory as “the only alternative” if Europe’s tourist industries are to open again.

“This is something where we need Europe to coordinate … to have one application for the whole continent, and after that, if there is no medicine or vaccine … one application for the whole world,” Jansa said, according to EURACTIV website, while speaking on a virtual panel alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

It is also reported that Slovenia’s government wants to introduce a legislative package aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19, including compulsory use of a contact tracing application for those who have tested positive or those in quarantine.

Web Browser Privacy: ARTICLE 19 Welcomes Initiatives to Protect Users

There are widespread web tracking practices that undermine users’ human rights. However, safeguards against web tracking can and are being deployed by various service providers.

EDRi member ARTICLE 19, and more generally EDRi as a whole, support these initiatives to protect user privacy and anonymity as part of a wider shift toward a more rights-respecting sector.

Read more here

False News and Images About COVID-19 Victims

False news containing an image of coffins of COVID-19 victims that have been dug up and found empty has been shared on various social media channels in North Macedonia. The image was later fact-checked. It turned out to come from Latin America and has nothing to do with coronavirus victims.

Montenegrin Opposition Claims State Official’s Family is Infected Without Proof

The main Montenegrin opposition Democratic Front published a press release alleging without evidence that the family members of the head of the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases, Milutin Simovic, were infected with coronavirus. They accused Simovic of spreading coronavirus during his visits to towns in the north of Montenegro. Simovic has not commented on the claims.

Disinformation about 5G Base Stations in Novi Pazar

Nikola Sandulovic, president of the Republican Party, published information that 5G base stations had been installed in Novi Pazar, one of the Serbian cities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection and Work Safety, as well as the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of Serbia denied installing 5G base stations on the territory of Novi Pazar.

Serbian Citizens Can See Test Results On Official Coronavirus Website

In the section of Serbia’s official covid19.rs website, entitled “Self-estimation Test”, citizens can find the results of their PCR test, which states whether or not they have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

After typing their personal health insurance number and the number of their health card, they can see their health data and the results of their PCR test. 

The director of Civic Initiatives, Maja Stojanovic, published this information on her twitter profile, stating she discovered this accidentally since the public was not properly informed about this shared information.

Shaping a Safer Digital Future: EDPS Strategy 2020-2024

The EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor) published its 2020-2024 StrategyShaping a Safer Digital Future: a new Strategy for a new decade‘.

In a connected world, where data flows across borders, solidarity within Europe, and internationally, will help to strengthen the right to data protection and make data work for people across the EU and beyond.

The Strategy focuses on three pillars: foresight, action and solidarity to address digital challenges for a saferfairer and more sustainable future.

Read more here

Website Claims Tuzi Mayor Infected, Without Proof

Montenegrin news site Standard published an article alleging that the mayor of Tuzi, Nik Djeljosaj, was infected with the coronavirus, without his confirmation. It alleged that Djeljosaj went to Serbia from Albania and that he was infected during his visit to Belgrade. Djeljosaj denied the claims, saying that his health is private.

Epidemiologist Claims False Account Exists on Twitter

Serbian epidemiologist Dr Zoran Radovanovic claims there is a false account under his name on Twitter. Radovanovic has spoken out in public about the COVID-19 pandemic and the response of the state.

Live Blog: Central, Southeast Europe Responds to Uptick in COVID-19 Pandemic

Follow the latest updates as governments in Southeast and Central Europe struggle to tackle the rising number of cases of the coronavirus in the region. After reopening in as early as April, the situation around the COVID-19 pandemic is again worsening.

In contrast to the beginning of the health crisis in March, when most countries in the region rushed to impose severe movement restrictions, and despite a new spike in infections and fatalities, authorities and citizens alike now seem more relaxed. 

Nutritionist Calls COVID-19 Pandemic ‘Deliberate’

Popular Croatian nutritionist Anita Supe posted a message on her Facebook profile that relativised and downplayed the dangers of the COVID-19 epidemic, stating among other things that there was a “deliberate pandemic scenario”. Her post has been shared over 2,400 times.

Montenegrin Arrested for Posting Doctor’s Photo on Facebook

Montenegrin police arrested a young man identified only by the initials E.K., from the town of Rozaje, for ‘spreading panic’. E.K. posted a photo on Facebook of a doctor from a local hospital with the caption “Doctor in isolation”.

Police claimed that the photo was taken before the doctor started self isolating due to the spread of the coronavirus in Rozaje.

Phishing Emails Promise Free Personal Protective Equipment

Phishing emails were sent on behalf of Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller, promising the recipients free personal protection equipment against the coronavirus. By clicking the link in the email, users unintentionally installed phishing malware on their computers.

Conspiracy Theorist Spreads False Info on Coronavirus Cases

Journalist and conspiracy theorist Milenko Nedelkovski shared false information on the increase in coronavirus cases on his Facebook profile, claiming that there were 550 new cases in only one day. Later, the health authorities’ official data showed that for that specific day, there were in fact 164 registered cases.

COVID-Tech: The Sinister Consequences of Immunity Passports

In its series on COVID-19, COVIDTech, EDRi explores the critical principles for protecting fundamental rights while curtailing the spread of the virus, as outlined in the EDRi network’s statement on the pandemic.

Each post in this series tackles a specific issue. In its latest post, EDRi took a look at the issue of immunity passports, their technological appeal and their potentially sinister consequences on social inequality and fundamental rights.

Read more here

Media, Social Network Users Spread COVID-19 Falsehoods

Croatian fact-checking website Faktograf reported that some media and users of WhatsApp and social networks have been spreading a message containing falsehoods about COVID-19. The message contains some of the most popular conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, falsely alleging among other things that the cause of the infection is not a virus but bacteria, and that the World Health Organization has banned autopsies of people who died from COVID-19.

TV Editor Threatens Health Authorities, then Deletes Post

TV Telma’s editor-in-chief, Atanas Kirovski, posted a Facebook message in which he threatened the health authorities, saying TV Telma would become their enemy if they continued with their attitude towards journalists. Kirovski made the post after Health Minister Venko Filipce and Chief Epidemiologist Zarko Karadzovski held a heated debate with several journalists, including one from TV Telma, at a press conference about coronavirus developments in the country.

Outcome: Kirovski later removed the post, and apologized for his impulsive reaction.

Socialist Party Published Interview with Woman who Wrongly Claimed to be Paramedic

The Socialist Party, MSZP, published a video on their social media pages in which a woman who claimed to be a paramedic said nine of 10 patients had died as a result of a government-ordered release of hospital beds due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, it turned out, the woman had never worked for any medical service.

Outcome: The MSZP deleted the video and launched an internal investigation. Police are investigating claims of fearmongering.

Reports Spread Claims about ‘New wave of false pandemic’

An article which claims that Croatian authorities and scientists are preparing for a “second wave of false pandemic”, originally published on the Croatian website Istinom protiv lazi (Truth Against Lies), has been shared on Facebook.

The article said that an international donors’ conference, in which the Croatian government took part, was held in early May to “raise money for a planned vaccine to mass kill humanity”. The article also describes members of the Croatian Civil Protection Authorities –Krunoslav Capak, Alemka Markotic, Vili Beros, and Croatian scientists – Igor Rudan, Ivan Djikic and Gordan Lauc – as psychopaths.

Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway Contact Tracing Apps Among Most Dangerous for Privacy

Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway have rolled out some of the most invasive COVID-19 contact tracing apps around the world, putting the privacy and security of hundreds of thousands of people at risk, an Amnesty International investigation reveals.

Read more here

Fake News on Rise in Coronavirus in North Macedonia

Several news portals have published fake news and unverified information about an increase in coronavirus cases in the country. According to these portals, the number of new cases rose to 200 for one day, while the Ministry of Health said that there had been 125 registered cases.

Health Minister Venko Filipce called for caution regarding the publication of such news, pointing out the damage that speculative and unverified information can have on the public.

GDPR Watchdog Challenges Hungary’s Data Protection Rights Suspension Amid Pandemic

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB), the bloc’s GDPR watchdog held a plenary session to discuss a letter sent by NGOs raising concerns over Hungary’s suspension of EU data protection rights.

In a statement released on Tuesday, EDPB stressed that “the mere existence of a pandemic or any other emergency situation alone is not a sufficient reason to provide for any kind of restriction on the rights of data subjects; rather, any restriction must clearly contribute to the safeguard of an important objective of general public interest of the EU or of a Member State.”

The announcement followed a letter sent by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Access Now and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU).

Read more here

Insults, Leaks and Fraud: Digital Violations Thrive amid Pandemic

Digital rights violations proliferated in Central and South-East Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, with over half of them involving propaganda, disinformation or the publication of unverified information, monitoring by BIRN has shown.

To read the detailed overview of our digital rights monitoring click here. For individual cases, check our regional database, developed together with the SHARE Foundation.

Google Appoints Its Representative in Serbia

Google became the first among the big corporations to appoint a representative in Serbia and meet its obligations under the new law on personal data protection. Serbian citizens will now be able to refer to the Commissioner concerning all issues related to personal data protection.

In its letter dated May 21, 2020, Google informed the Serbian commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection that it had appointed “BDK lawyers” from Belgrade as its representative.

The SHARE Foundation had previously filed complaints to the Commissioner against both Google and Facebook for failing to appoint representatives in Serbia, which they are obliged to do under the new Law on Personal Data Protection, which came into force in 2019.

Turkish Police Hunt Musical Minaret Hackers

In last two days, unknown persons in Turkey have hacked mosques’ digital audio systems in the coastal city of Izmir and played the anti-fascist song Ciao Bella and other songs with revolutionary messages.

Read more here

PSD MP Fined for Linking Roma to Covid-19

A Social Democratic Party member of parliament, Nicolae Dobrovici-Bacalbasa, has been fined 6,000 lei or around 1,240 euros, for a post on social media in which he stated: “The Chinese got the virus from bats, we will get them from our crows.”  Roma people are often derogatorily referred to as “crows” in Romania.

Outcome: Dobrovici-Bacalbasa was found guilty of discrimination and of violating the dignity of the Roma.

Russia ‘Behind Some Covid-19 Disinformation’, Romanians Told

A report by the Romanian government’s Cyber Influence Assessment and Strategies Center (CIASC) has warned of the alleged pro-Russian bias of a substantial part of the disinformation about Covid-19, news website G4media reported.

Some messages circulated online that were intended to raise social tensions and suspicions about the Romanian government and the EU were propagated by the Kremlin-funded media outlet Sputnik, the report said.

Police Officer’s Private Phone Number Published on Twitter

As tensions in Montenegro continue over the arrest and detention of senior Serbian Orthodox clerics, a twitter user in one discussion has publicly shared the private phone number of a police officer named as Slavenko Baljic. A politician, Nebojsa Medojevic, has accused him of having coordinated alleged police violence against protesters in Plejvlja on May 13.

Politicians Spread Fake news About Injured Baby Online

A photograph of a baby with a wounded head was spread on social media in Montenegro with claims that police in the town of Nikšić pushed away a woman with a child in a wheelchair and did not let her pick up the baby.

The photo was in fact taken from the Internet. Regardless of that, two politicians in Montenegro, Nebojsa Medojevic and Marko Milaci, shared the photo on social media channels, falsely claiming it was a consequence of police violence against a protest in favour of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

EU Warns Virus-tracing apps Must Not Be Used for Mass Murveillance

COVID-19 contact-tracing apps must only be used during the pandemic and will need to be automatically de-activated once the crisis is over, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said on Thursday in a bid to allay concerns over state surveillance, reports Reuters.

Read more here

False News of Bill Gates’ Arrest Circulated

Misinformation was circulated on social networks that the American FBI has arrested Bill Gates on charges of biological terrorism. The false announcement was supplemented by an article describing the operation to detain Gates, with information that the FBI arrested him thanks to a report by Australian protesters against the 5G network. But Croatian fact-checking website Faktograf said that the ‘news’ actually came from an Australian satirical website called The Betoota Advocate. A photo of Bill Gates in handcuffs, published in the same Facebook post, is a photomontage that was also taken from a satirical article.

Croatia Working on COVID-19 Contact-Tracing App

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that under an agreement of EU member states, Croatia was working on developing an application to monitor coronavirus cases, and one of the companies working on it was the Croatian company APIS IT.

“Croatia is working on the application; when it is ready we will inform you, it will be such that it protects the privacy of all our citizens,” Plenkovic said.

As Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic explained on Wednesday, it was about monitoring COVID-29 cases, but contact tracing”. “Everything is voluntary. People will be able to download the application if they want,” he said.

“[It] makes sense, when we talk about tourism at the EU level, only if
everyone has the same solution – and the basis for a solution is still
under construction,” he said.

In April, the European Commission has recommended a common EU approach towards contact-tracing apps, that are designed to warn people if they have been in contact with an infected person.

EDRI: Ban Biometric Mass Surveillance

Across Europe, highly intrusive and rights-violating facial recognition and biometric processing technologies are quietly becoming ubiquitous in our public spaces. As the European Commission consults the public on what to do, EDRi calls on the Commission and EU Member States to ensure that such technologies are comprehensively banned in both law and practice.

Read more here

France’s “Avia Law” Is a Threat to Online Speech Says Article19

Freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19 has warned that France’s “Avia” Law, passed today, will threaten freedom of speech in France. 

Originally drafted to tackle online ‘hate speech’, the law has been widely criticised for being overly broad in terms of the scope of the platforms affected and the content that they are expected to remove.

Read more here

Croatia to Create App for ‘Catching COVID-19 Contacts’, PM Says

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday the government Croatia has been working on a mobile application, with local ICT company, APIS IT, to monitor the coronavirus in accordance with EU law.

“Croatia is working on the application, when it is ready we will inform you, and it will protect the privacy of all our citizens,” Plenkovic said.

Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic explained on Wednesday that “it is not a monitoring application, but contact tracing IT support”.

“Everything is voluntary. People will be able to download the application if they want. [The app] makes sense when we talk about tourism”.

In April, the European Commission recommended a common EU approach towards contact-tracing apps, designed to warn people if they have been in contact with an infected person.

Opposition Party Member Held over Facebook Post

Police detained and questioned János Csóka-Szűcs, member of local political group Kossuth Kör and Momentum Party, raiding his home and seizing his mobile phone and computers.

Police said Csóka-Szűcs was interrogated for Facebook a post of 20 April, which shared a call for an anti-government demonstration with the comment that “1,170 beds have been emptied in [the town of] Gyula” to make way for COVID-19 patients. In fact, the local hospital has almost 1,200 beds emptied to care for potential COVID patients

Greek Hackers Post User Names and Passwords From Ministries

Greek hackers hacked into the North Macedonian Finance and Economy ministries, and then tweeted a list of emails and passwords of staffers working in these two ministries. The hacker group that carried out the attack is known as the “Strong Greek Army.”

Man Detained for Criticizing Government on Facebook

Police detained a man and placed him in custody on suspicion of fear-mongering over a post on Facebook in which he claimed the country’s leaders had deliberately timed the lifting of curfew restrictions to coincide with the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, which he suggested could lead to mass infections. After also writing about “our dictator”, police asked him who exactly he was calling a dictator.

False Croatian ‘Enforced Microchipping’ Story Circulated Online

The claim that Croatia is obliged to microchip its citizens has been circulated on social networks.

The website Zajednohrvatska.wordpress.com published an article that claimed that there is a secret plan to microchip the global population and that Croatian politicians have signed agreements pledging to microchip Croatian citizens. The article also implies that the measures taken to combat COVID-19 epidemic were introduced in order to microchip citizens.

According to Croatian fact-checking website Faktograf, the article does not contain any accurate information, but it has “nevertheless been shared about 1,500 times on Facebook”.

Turkish Universities to Have Online Final Exams

The Turkish Higher Education Council, YOK, announced on May 11 that there will be no final examinations in classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The YOK asked universities to organise exams on digital platforms as well as setting written assignments.

“Our policy should be student-oriented. Our universities opted for digital and distance learning during the pandemic and exams will be held in digital platforms as well,” the YOK said in a written statement.

Fraudsters Claiming to Be Health Officials Spread Malware

Fraudsters have been sending e-mails to people that are designed to look like they were sent by the North Macedonian Ministry of Health. The messages, titled ‘Action Needed: One of Your Contacts is Covid-19 Positive’, urge people to open a file attached to the e-mail. The messages say that those who do not open the file will be arrested and prosecuted.

Portals Publish Article About Non-existing BBC List

Several portals in Serbia published articles claiming that the BBC had put Serbia in second place on the list of countries with the “best pandemic response measures”. However, it was since confirmed that no such list exists.   

Alfa TV Publishes Fake News About Mayor

Alfa TV published fake news about the Mayor of Stip, Blagoj Bochvarski.

The report included a photo from two years ago, which shows Bochvarski addressing an event attended by several people, something that is currently banned due to restrictions related to the coronavirus epidemic. Bochvarski said that he sought an apology from Alfa TV for publishing the fake news.

Man in Custody for “Spreading Panic” on Social Media

Media reports said a man from the town of Loznica was held in custody for 50 days and had his electronic devices confiscated – and is now under house arrest until proceedings against him are concluded. He was accused of spreading panic on Twitter by publishing claims about shortages of equipment, personnel and space in the Loznica General Hospital.

Outcome: Suspect put under house arrest until the completion of legal proceedings.

Croatian Anti-Semitic Coronavirus Article Shared on Facebook

An article containing anti-Semitic views, originally published on the Croatian website Istinom protiv lazi (Truth Against Lies), has been shared on Facebook. The article claims that the coronavirus targets non-Jews and that the pandemic was created in order to bring about the abolition of paper money.

Journalist Ljupcho Zikov Receives Threats After TV Debate

Ljupcho Zikov, a journalist in North Macedonia, said he received death threats on Facebook after he participated in a TV debate about the current situation in the country amid the coronavirus crisis. Zikov wrote that he received 11 messages full of hate speech and threats against him and his relatives.

Istanbul Leads Online Donation Campaign

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which is governed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, introduced an online platform called “Askida Fatura” for people who want to pay utility bills of others, who are unable to amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, utility bills amounting to some 700,000 euros for 41,883 families have been paid by their fellow Turkish citizens, IBB spokesperson Murat Ongun announced.

Other cash donation campaigns run by opposition parties in the municipality have been previously banned by the government.

“Askida Fatura” online platform was also attacked by international hackers several times and the platform was closed to those living outside of the country, he added.

Serbia Lifts State of Emergency

Starting on Thursday, Serbia has lifted the state of emergency which was imposed on March 15 to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday evening, MPs voted on a law to decide which governmental and presidential measures are to be cancelled and which are to stay in force. The country’s curfew, so-called Skype trials and the decision on limiting prices of protective equipment and special rules for nursing homes have all been cancelled.

The decree regulating state financial help to citizens will still in force.

Serbian Parliament had not met to initially to vote on imposing the state of emergency.

Racist Attack on Migrant Centre Livestreamed in Serbia

According to media reports, a 20-year-old Serbian man breached the fence of a migrant centre in Belgrade suburb Obrenovac with his car, burst into the building and shouted racist remarks at migrants. He livestreamed the attack on Facebook.

Journalist Receives Death Threats After Interviews With Leading Politicians

The journalist Misko Ivanov received death threats on Facebook after he interviewed the leaders of the Social Democrats, SDSM, and VMRO-DPMNE, Zoran Zaev and Hristijan Mickovski respectively. Immediately after the interviews, Ivanov wrote that he had received a message full of hate speech and threats on the social network.

EU Ministers Call for Coordinated Approach for Contact Tracing Apps

EU Telecommunications Ministers gathered on Tuesday at an informal video conference, organised by the Croatian Presidency, to discuss the implications of COVID-19 crisis on the telecommunications and digital sector.

“Ministers discussed the use of mobile applications and mobility data to combat the COVID-19 crisis. They stressed the need for a coordinated approach at the EU level and underlined that contact tracing applications will be important for the gradual relaxation of measures,” it was said in a press release issued on Tuesday evening.

Man Arrested Over Twitter Threats to President Vucic

Operatives of the Security Information Agency, SIA, arrested a man aged 48 after he was suspected of repeatedly calling for the murder of President Aleksandar Vucic on Twitter.

Outcome: Suspect placed in custody of up to 48 hours

Romania Again Closes Site That Reopened After Being Closed

Romanian authorities blocked access to the news website justitiarul.ro for the second time after its publisher reposted some of the fake news for which it was blocked days before.

Romania Aborts Blocked Site’s Attempt to Get Back on Air

Romanian authorities aborted an attempt by the publishers of a news site, ortodoxinfo.ro, which was previously blocked for propagating fake news, to go on air again using a different url. The authorities said it planned to keep spreading similar items of disinformation to those that motivated the closure of the original site.

COVID-19 & Digital Rights: Document Pool

In its document pool, EDRI listed relevant articles and documents related to the intersection of the COVID-19 crisis and digital rights. This allows you to follow the developments of surveillance measures, content moderation, tracking and privacy-threatening actions in Europe as they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, while also offering the set of perspectives and recommendations put forth by a host of digital rights watchdog organisations across Europe and the world.

The document pool is updated regularly to ensure the delivery of the most up-to-date information.

Read more here

42 Violations of Freedom of Expression in Serbia, NGO Says

There have been 42 cases of violations of freedom of expression and information in Serbia since the state of emergency was imposed, the NGO, Civic Initiatives, said on Sunday.

“Through the Three Freedoms Platform, Civic Initiatives regularly monitors and reports on violations of freedom of association, assembly and expression, and since the introduction of the state of emergency [in Serbia], monitoring has been extended to other human rights violations. Almost a third of all recorded cases were reserved for violations of freedom of information and expression,” Civic Initiatives said in a press release on World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.

State of emergency in Serbia was imposed on March 15 and there is no official information on when it is going to be lifted.

Tabloid Editor Insults CINS Journalists on Twitter

Dragan J Vucicevic, editor and owner of the pro-government tabloid Informer, published insulting tweets about the editor of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, CINS, Milica Saric, and the journalist Vladimir Kostic. The attack occurred after CINS published a story about how the private plane of Zeljko Mitrovic, owner of pro-government TV station Pink TV, was sent without a permit on a flight to Moscow to retrieve medical supplies.

Journalist Threatened after Crisis HQ Press Conference

After she put a question to Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar at a press conference of the pandemic crisis HQ, the editor of Jedinstvo newspaper Rada Komazec received numerous threats and insults on social media.

5G Conspiracy Theories Shared via Chat Groups in Serbia

Conspiracy theories that 5G networks are being used to control the population were spread over Viber groups in Serbia. Citizens who received the messages were also called to protest the introduction of 5G networks in the country by turning off their mobile phones for two hours on May 3.

Croatian Unions Stages ‘Online Protest’ on May Day

One of Croatia’s largest trade union alliances, SSSH, replaced traditional mass gatherings on International Workers’ Day with an online protest.

The demonstration took place on Friday via Zoom and was aired on social media networks.

Union representatives did a short briefing about the worker’s rights during the coronavirus epidemic in different sectors and sent a message that “there is no economy without workers”.

Local Radio Station Suffers Technical Attack

The website of Radio 021 from Novi Sad came under a technical attack, resulting in the slow loading of content. It appears that the options for liking and disliking user comments were the principal targets.

Tabloid Attacks Investigative Portal CINS

The pro-government tabloid Informer published an insulting article on its website aimed at the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, CINS, after CINS had published a story about how the private plane of Zeljko Mitrovic, owner of the pro-government TV station Pink TV, was sent without a permit on a flight to Moscow to retrieve medical supplies.

Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age

On the 30th of April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, launched their 2020 Joint Declaration on freedom of expression and elections in the digital age

Read more here

Government Junior Party Wants to Sue Cartoon

The KDNP, the smaller governing party in Hungary, protested against a newspaper cartoon, saying it insulted religious people and threatening legal action, after the daily Népszava published a cartoon of Cecilia Müller, the Chief Medical Officer, known from daily press conferences on COVID-19, crucified along with Jesus Christ.The cartoon saysMüller’s “underlying illness caused dependency,” referring to unreliable of the government information on the coronavirus.

COVID-19: A Commission Hitchhiker’s Tech Guide to the App Store

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), closely watching contacts during a pandemic “will prevent further transmission of the virus”. In response to the COVID-19 crisis many technical responses (or acts of techno-solutionism) arose shortly after the pandemic was declared by the WHO. Contact–tracing applications are one of the notable solutions brought forward, and currently occupy the center of the public debate in the European space.

If apps (and technology in general) are proven to be useful in any significant way, they need to fully protect fundamental rights, since the risks created by these technologies could outlast the pandemic itself., said EDRI.

Read more here

Croatian Fact-checking Website Targeted After Debunking Fake News

The Croatian fact-checking website, Faktograf, has recently been targeted by several websites, as well as by politicians, for debunking fake news, especially those related to the coronavirus epidemic.

In an article published on Tuesday, which criticises the actions of the Croatian Civil Protection Authorities, the website, Paraf, also wrote that “biased Faktograf controls Facebook and deletes all posts that are not in line with official policy.”

On his Facebook account and Youtube channel, MP Ivan Pernar, said on April 26 that Faktograf “determines what is true and censors those who think differently”. Another website accused Faktograf on media lynching, illegal censuring and suppression of free speech and described the platform as Croatia’s “self-proclaimed, leftist – if not communist nostalgic – fact-checker website”.

Fake Reports About Schools in North Macedonia Reopening During May

The Macedonian Ministry of Education denied reports that authorities have issued an ordinance that schools in the country will reopen on May 18. The fake document, circulating on social networks, states that students would return to school and study in three shifts, and that classes would be shortened from 45 to 30 minutes.

EU Ministers Discuss COVID-19 Contacts Tracing Applications

EU ministers, responsible for home affairs, held a video conference on Tuesday to discuss the response to COVID-19. One of the topics on the table was the prevention of the further spread of the coronavirus, in particular, through the possible use of tracing applications.

Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, who attended the meeting, told local media that “monitoring contacts of [COVID-19] infected [persons] by cellphone is an epidemiological measure on a voluntary basis with strict respect for privacy.”

“Seven or eight EU Member States have such a solution, while 12 have announced the preparatory launch of an application that everyone sees as an opportunity to prevent or reduce the rate of spread in second wave infections that could come in the fall,” he explained, adding that Germany would launch such an application in May.

Serbian Labour Ministry Launches “CORONA STOP” App

The Serbian Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy launched on its website on Tuesday an informative application “CORONA STOP” where citizens can obtain important information related to the novel coronavirus. Those willing to volunteer can also submit to the app.

The Ministry said the application is going to be available for android devices through the Google Play store.

CORONA STOP, among other things, enables anonymous reporting to the Labor Inspection of citizens who violate the country’s preventative measures. It also includes stores and retail outlets which violate the country’s measures on regulating prices and safety measures.

False Claims That Authorities Offer Money to Register Fake Coronavirus Victims

False claims and accusations are circulating on Macedonian social media networks alleging that the country’s health authorities are offering up to 2,000 euros to family members of the recently deceased, in order to register them as victims of the coronavirus, instead of noting the real cause of death.

Rijeka in Croatia Deploys Drones to Monitor City

The Civil Protection Authorities in the Croatian city of Rijeka have started to monitor public areas for coronavirus infractions with drones, Croatian media reported on Monday.

The authorities said that there were a number of violations of the ban on gatherings at the weekend, primarily at the beach and at sports facilities.
Drone surveillance was introduced earlier in the Croatian cities of Osijek and Virovitica.

Turkey Detains 402 People for ‘Provocative’ Social Media Posts

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said on Monday on Twitter that 402 people have been detained for posting false or provocative reports about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media. “In the last 42 days, 6,362 social media accounts that were sharing fake and provocative posts were reviewed and 855 suspects were identified while 402 were apprehended,” the ministry said.

Activists Exposed to Hate Speech on Facebook

Activists from the HollaBack! Croatia initiative, which is part of an international movement dedicated to stopping street harassment, received many comments containing chauvinistic remarks and hate speech on their official Facebook fan page, after they participated in an online campaign where they wrote down what they “don’t miss” in the lockdown, such as being groped on public transport, receiving comments on their physical appearance or being stalked by unknown men.

Twitter User Posts Video of People in Nursing Home, Claiming They Have Coronavirus

A Twitter user posted a video that captures how some residents of a nursing home were being escorted to a hospital. Without any proof, the user also claimed that the patients could be infected with the coronavirus.

Presidential Website Accused of Publishing “Fake News”

Opposition MP Liviu Plesoianu has called on the authorities to block access to President Klaus Iohannis’s official website, accusing it of spreading “fake news”, He referred to a speech by the President posted on 11 March, which said that “even older people who have other health problems generally have an acceptable outcome” after contracting COVID-19.

The speech warned against viewing COVID-19 as a “killer virus”. Plesoianu’s move was seen as a critique of the state policy of shutting down news websites that publish news deemed to be fake and that generate panic and alarm.

Orthodox Site Closed Over Pensioners “Extermination” Claim

Authorities have again used their exceptional powers granted under the state of emergency to block an Orthodox Christian news website. The targeted platform, ortodoxinfo.ro , was shut down for publishing claims that the government planned to send pensioners to concentration camps and exterminate them in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Intelligence Service Warns of COVID-19 Online Banking Scam

The Romanian Information Service has warned the public against a scam making the rounds that consists of perpetrators sending a Trojan virus via Whatsapp, telegram and other communication platforms and luring users into opening a link that offers information about COVID-19. Once the Trojan is installed on the device, hackers can steal banking data from the victim.

COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Review: Exit through the App Store?

Exit through the App Store? A rapid evidence review of the technical considerations and societal implications of using technology to transition from the COVID-19 crisis was undertaken with a view to supporting the Government and the NHS as it adopts technical solutions to aid in the transition from the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more here

Bosnian Media Shares Italian MP’s Covid-19 Disinformation

A speech by Italian MP Vittorio Sgarbi, with subtitles in Bosnian, in which Sgarbi made numerous false claims about the number of people who have died from Covid-19 in Italy and branded the pandemic “hysteria”, was shared on social media and had over 400,000 views by the end of April.

The video was shared in Bosnia uncritically by mainstream outlets such as Slobodna Bosna and Radio Sarajevo.

Serbian Epidemiologist Threatened for Backing Vaccination

Epidemiologist Predrag Kon was targeted by numerous threats and insults on Facebook after he claimed that the coronavirus pandemic could only be suppressed by vaccination.

Turkey Gives 1GB Free Internet to All Mobile Users

Turkey’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoglu announced on Friday that GSM companies will give 1GB free internet packages to 81 million registered mobile phone users after a protocol was signed between the government and the companies.

“The internet is much needed by our citizens. We asked for support from GSM companies so as to not put an extra burden on our people at the moment,” Karaismailoglu said, explaining that internet usage has increased during the COVID-19 crisis.

Romania Blocks Site for Claiming Pandemic is Invention

News website romania-veche.ro has been blocked by the authorities for publishing fake news claiming that COVID-19 does not exist and the pandemic is an invention put forward by a global conspiracy. The story was shared more than 170,000 times on Facebook. The source of the fake story was a post published on Facebook by an account operating with a fake identity.

Outcome: The site is now inaccessible to the public.

N1 TV Journalist Targeted by Sexist Tweet

Dragan J. Vucicevic, editor-in-chief and owner of Informer, a pro government Serbian tabloid, tweeted a photo of N1 TV journalist Zaklina Tatalovic with a sexist remark.

His action was condemned by the Equality Commissioner of Serbia.

Fake Emails Sent in the Name of Tax Authority

Unknown persons have been sending out phishing emails, falsely in the name of the Hungarian tax authority, seekin users’ bank card details.

Serbian Radio Host Blocked from Satirical Twitter Account

Serbian radio host Dasko Milinovic said that he has been blocked from posting on ‘Zapad Todorovic’, a satirical Twitter account that he runs, for seven days.

Milinovic said this happened after one of his tweets was reported for an alleged breach of Twitter’s regulations.

Tech Giants Urged to Preserve Blocked Content About Virus

A total of 75 signatories, including Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, have signed a letter asking social media and content-sharing platforms to preserve all data they’ve blocked or removed during the coronavirus pandemic and make it public for researchers and journalists in the future.

Read more here

Emails Impersonate North Macedonian Police Official

Emails claiming to come from the North Macedonian Interior Ministry were sent to members of the public, asking them to attend police stations for an investigation during the coronavirus outbreak. The emails also contained a faked signature from the state secretary of the Interior Ministry, Magdalena Nestorovska. Nestorovska wrote on Facebook that the messages were not genuine, her signature had been forged, and that the aim was to spread panic in the country.  

Romania Blocks Sites for Spreading Falsehoods

News website genocid.ro has been blocked by the Romanian authorities for publishing false news reports such as one saying the government was using disinfectants in public spaces that could kill people.

Outcome: The site is inaccessible to the public.

Fraudsters Promise Gifts of Mobile Phones

Misusing the name of the retail group Auchan, fraudsters spread posts on social media promising Samsung mobile phones for only 590 HUF (less than 2 euros), if users provide their bank card details.

Facebook Removes Anti-Quarantine Posts

Social media company, which has been under pressure to police harmful content and misinformation related to the pandemic, said it would only take down anti-quarantine protest events if they defied government guidelines, reports Reuters.

Read more here

Fraudsters Asking for Users’ Personal Data

Unknown persons are posting sponsored ads on Facebook and Instagram, allegedly seeking product testers on behalf of Lidl, the grocery chain. In fact the ads were not posted by Lidl; the fraudsters want to obtain the users ’personal data.

Pandemic Information System Left Exposed Online

Login credentials for COVID-19, Serbia’s information system for entry, analysis and storage of health data during the pandemic, were made publicly available on the website of a health institution for eight days.

SHARE Foundation researchers stumbled on the page while searching for information about the new legal framework for personal data processing in response to the pandemic. Relevant state authorities were notified and further access was disabled promptly.

Men Arrested for Denying Pandemic on Social Media

Police detained a man who made false claims about COVID-19 on social media, stating in his posts that there was no COVID-19 pandemic at all, and that it was just a cover for a secret entity to take power over the world.

Outcome: The man was questioned by police

5G Rumours on Social Media Cause Hysteria in North Macedonia

Citizens in North Macedonia have rung the alarm on Saturday, after a video allegedly showing a 5G transmitter being installed in the Macedonian municipality of Bogovinje was shared on social networks.

As a result, the mayor of the municipality, Albon Xhemaili, had to contact the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Environment and the Agency for Electronic Communications to check whether 5G network equipment was really installed in the village of Tetovo.

This comes after citizens complained that workers from the telecom operator, A1, were installing equipment to transmit a 5G signal. A1 denied such claims.

Turkey Introduces COVID-19 App Amid Pandemic

The Turkish Health Ministry on Saturday introduced a new mobile application to help Turkish citizens access their health information and map out high-risk areas.

The app also shows closest hospitals, pharmacies, markets and public transportation lines.

Belgrade Deputy Mayor Insults Journalist on Facebook

Goran Vesic, the deputy mayor of Belgrade, accused former BIRN journalist Ana Novakovic of being “[opposition politician Dragan Djilas’s journalist” after she questioned in a Twitter post the transfer of President Aleksandar Vucic’s son to a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients located at the Belgrade Fair.

Fake Photos Show Donald Tusk’s Grandfather as a Nazi

Several pro-government websites have posted a photo claiming it shows Jozef Tusk, the grandfather of Donald Tusk, as a Nazi officer. One site published a faked photo showing Donald Tusk himself in an SS uniform.

The article was shared by Maria Schmidt, director of the House of Terror in Budapest and a government commissioner. Tusk’s grandfather was in fact forced to enlist in the German armed forces, though as a Pole, he could never have been an SS officer.

Romania Blocks Site for Publishing False News

The Romanian authorities used state of emergency powers to block access to news website bpnews.ro after it “persisted in putting forward conspiracy theories whose nature instigated citizens to not respect” government provisions on social distancing.

Outcome: The site is inaccessible to the public.

Zagreb Students Not Doing Exams in Blindfolds

The Student Council of the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty in Zagreb reported on Friday that a photo was circulating on social network alongside misinformation that its students, who cannot attend courses and exams during the epidemic, were doing oral exams via video-calls wearing blindfolds. They said that student ombudsman Denis Gascic had investigated the claim, and that it was determined that the photograph was not created as part of online teaching, as well as an online examination, on that faculty.

Protecting Digital Research Even More Crucial During Covid-19

During country lockdowns, content posted to social media has helped to expose violations, public records requests have been filed to understand how states decide which people to give Covid-19 tests, and public search engines are being used to highlight security flaws in the video conferencing platform Zoom, says HRW.

According to Human Rights Watch, as digital research becomes more important, some governments are restricting the public’s access to content by censoring informationlimiting freedom of information requests, imposing internet shutdowns, and propagating disinformation campaigns.

Read more here

EU Guidance to Ensure Full Data Protection Standards of Apps Fighting the Pandemic

On Thursday, the European Commission has published guidance on the development of new apps that support the fight against coronavirus in relation to data protection.

The development of such apps and their take up by citizens can have a significant impact on the treatment of the virus and can play an important role in the strategy to lift containment measures, complementing other measures like increased testing capacities.

It is important, however, to ensure that EU citizens can fully trust such innovative digital solutions and can embrace them without fear. 

Read more here

Turkey Detains 303 For ‘Provocative’ Social Media Posts

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said on Thursday night on Twitter that 303 people had been detained in the last month for posting fake and provocative reports about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

“In the last 31 days, 5,603 social media accounts that were sharing fake and provocative posts were reviewed and 765 suspects were identified while 303 were captured,” the ministry wrote.

Reporter Without Borders complains to UN about coronavirus press freedom violations

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written to two United Nations special rapporteurs asking them to formally condemn governments that have violated the right to information in connection with the coronavirus epidemic, thereby putting public health and lives in danger both in their own countries and the rest of the world.

Read more here

Bosnian Entity to Revoke Decree Outlawing Fake News

The Ministry of Interior in Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-majority entity, on Thursday said that it will revoke the Decree on Spreading of Panic and False News in a State of Emergency as well as the Decision on Prohibiting Spreading of Panic and Disorder. It said they were not needed as people were obeying restrictions already.

“The reason for revoking this decision is that citizens were respecting all the measures and instructions issued by the relevant authorities and were informed of the epidemiological situation through official channels,” the ministry said.

In addition, it said it will not process any offences issued based on the Decree or Decision.

Crime in the Western Balkans Six at the Time of Coronavirus: Early Findings

The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) published a report on criminal activities in the Western Balkans during the COVID19 outbreak. In the section entitled “Fraud, Scams, and Theft”, the report deals with cases of scamming using mobile and digital technologies.

“It is now certain that the pandemic is being used for internet abuse, which is most often accomplished through email or SMS messages containing information regarding the Coronavirus whose access requires the person’s user name and password,” writes BCSP.

Read more here

BIRN Platform to Help Kosovars Follow COVID-19 Restrictions

After the Kosovo government introduced scheduled movement restrictions as part of its measures to stop COVID-19, BIRN Kosovo in collaboration with a local software development company, KUTIA, has launched a platform called “90 Minutëshi yt” (“Your 90 Minutes”) where people can check when they are allowed to go out.

People can input the second-to-last number of their personal ID number, or passport number, if they are foreigners, and the website will show them the time slots when they are allowed to go out for necessities in the coming days.

North Macedonia Leads Region in COVID-19 Tracing App

North Macedonia has become the first country in the Western Balkans to launch a contact-tracing app to tackle the spread of COVID-19, with the government at pains to stress user data will be protected.

The app, downloaded more than 5,000 times on its first day, was developed and donated to the Macedonian authorities by Skopje-based software company Nextsense.

Read more here

Serbian ISP Suffers Technical Attack

Serbia Broadband, SBB, one of the largest telecom providers in Serbia, stated that its servers came under cyber-attacks that caused problems with their internet service. The company noted that during the attack on its network, some users received messages from Telekom Serbia, a state-controlled company, spreading what it called “scandalous falsehoods about SBB”.

Good Practices for Press Conferences during COVID-19 Pandemic

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) welcomes some good practices regarding the holding of press conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many countries are still restricting this democratic exercice under the pretext of ensuring the safety of journalists. The EFJ urges countries where journalists are not allowed to ask questions live to adapt in such a critical moment, for example with the use of video conferencing system.

Romania Blocks Two Sites over False News

Access to news websites r.news-romania24.xyz and news-romania24.xyz was blocked by Romanian authorities using state of emergency powers after they published several pieces of news that the government determined to be false.

Outcome: The sites cannot be accessed.

Turkish Plan to Muzzle Social Media Delayed by Pandemic

As Turkey, like the rest of the world, struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, its government plans to take another step to further restrict digital rights in the country.

A draft law will create new responsibilities for answering the government’s demands on their content for social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger.

The law on social media was dropped from the parliamentary schedule on Tuesday to make way for more urgent bills on the economy and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But civil society groups and opposition parties fear it will be back before long.

Read more here

Website Falsely Claims ‘Bosnian Cure for Covid-19’

A website called Preporod.info falsely claimed that a medicine called Malcovir, made by a Bosnian company from Lukavac, is a cure for Covid-19. It did not say that Malcovir, which contains hidroxicloroquin, a substance used in treating malaria, is not effective against Covid-19 or approved for treating it.

The article was republished by mainstream media in Bosnia, such as the Fena news agency, Dnevni Avaz, Nezavisne Novine and others.

Facebook Page Urges Destruction of ‘5G Antennas’ in Tuzla

The Facebook page ‘Džennetski napitak’ published a photo of various pieces of electrical equipment on buildings in Tuzla , claiming that they were 5G antennas secretly installed overnight “while people were sleeping”, and called on people to destroy them if they see them on their homes.

The photo was shared by more than 2,000 people it was removed from the page.

Attacker Smashes Wi-Fi Equipment, Thinking it was 5G

After equipment was installed to provide free internet access in public areas in the municipality of Bibinje near the Croatian coastal city of Zadar, an unknown person tried to destroy it, thinking it was 5G network infrastructure. It has been reported that some of the equipment was partially destroyed.

Media reported on Wednesday that rumours had circulated in the Bibinje area that the local authorities had installed 5G equipment secretly at night, which the authorities denied.

They explained that it was equipment acquired by the WiFi4EU initiative, which promotes free wi-fi in public spaces such as parks, squares, public buildings, libraries, health centres and museums in municipalities across Europe.

Bulgarian Far-Rightist Faces Charges for Encouraging Violations of Restrictions

Controversial far-right politician and Ataka party leader Volen Siderov faces charges after being accused of inciting people to violate coronavirus safety measures on Wednesday, when he said in TV interviews and press releases that people should not follow the government imposed rules and should freely gather to celebrate. His statements were also shared on social media.

Serbian Police Warn Public about Email Scam

Serbia’s Interior Ministry has warned the public about an email scam to infect devices with Trojan malware. A fraudulent email informs people they have been summoned by the police over an ongoing investigation, and tells them to take a look at attached documents that contain the malware.

Another Area in Croatia Using Drones to Catch Rule Breakers

Drones run by the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, HGSS, will be included in the fight against the spread of coronavirus epidemic in the town of Virovitica, the local authorities reported on Tuesday.

HGSS, which already uses drones, has now stated that, “this technology can be used for other purposes, in order to protect the health and life of people and in special situations such as this one”.

Virovitica is the second place in the country using drones to monitor implementation of social distancing measures. Civil Protection Authorities in the eastern city of Osijek introduced aerial surveillance systems for the same purpose in early April.

Social Media Group Begins Lynching Campaign Against Reporter

Croatian media reported on Tuesday that local police in the coastal city of Split are investigating a social network group that is encouraging a hunt for Zivana Susak Zivkovic, a reporter from Dalmatinski news portal, who was attacked while covering an illegal gathering of worshipers outside of a local church on Easter.

The case was reported to the police by the editor of the website, who submitted screenshots showing numerous comments from social network users.

News Website Faktor.ba Receives Threats

On April 14, two people entered the Faktor.ba newsroom, unhappy about an article published the night before about shots being fired and arson in Sarajevo. After the two people threatened and swore at the employees of the website, demanding that the article be changed, an unknown person called the newsroom and threatened to come to the office if the article wasn’t amended. The Sarajevo Canton police then came to the newsroom and wrote a report about the incident.

Police Inspector Probed for Livestreaming Curfew-Breaking

A police inspector in Skopje used Facebook Live to stream videos of himself walking around during a general curfew, after his working shift was over.

The Interior Ministry said that the inspector acted contrary to instructions for using social networks and damaged the reputation of the force. He will face a disciplinary procedure.

Facebook Video Smears Serbian Journalist

A Facebook page entitled Javnost Srbije (Serbian Public) published a video smearing Nova S website journalist Ana Lalic over her story about poor working conditions in one Serbian hospital.

The page also used online ads to promote its content aimed disparaging at Ana Lalic.

Croatia Launches “Andrija” WhatsApp COVID-19 Assistance Tool

The first “digital assistant in the fight against the coronavirus” was presented to the Croatian government on Tuesday. The tool, entitled ‘Andrija’, after the doctor who laid the foundation for the public health service in Yugoslavia, works over the mobile app, Whatsapp.

Croatian users can contact “him” in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and receive official information. They can ask Andrija questions and will get personalised responses.

Person Arrested for Calling for Violence on News Website

Sarajevo police arrested a person identified only as M.H. for making threats to police officials in comments on the news portal Klix, which the police called a criminal act. The Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo was notified and the person was arrested and taken to the Unit for Security of Property and Holding of Arrested
Persons of the Canton Sarajevo Police. He was later released.

Montenegro Opposition Leader Charged for Spreading Panic Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

On Monday, Montenegrin police filed a criminal charge against Gora Marko Milacic, the leader of the Montenegrin opposition party, Prava Crna, for causing panic and disorder, after recording police officers trying to stop a religious gathering at the Christ Resurrection Temple in Podgorica.

“Milacic recorded police action and broadcasted it live on social networks. The State Prosecutor said that with that post, he committed a criminal offence of causing panic and disorder,” the police directorate said in a press release.

North Macedonia Launches Mobile App to Track COVID-19 Infections

The Ministry of Information Society and Administration and the Health Ministry in North Macedonia on Monday promoted a new mobile app entitled “StopCorona!” that, they say, can help detect if users came in contact with others who may be infected with the novel coronavirus.

“The app guarantees complete privacy. It does not follow [user’s] contacts, does not use locations, nor the name of its users. It works using anonymous generated codes … the only data that the app needs is the user’s phone numbers,” the Information Society minister Damjan Mancevski said.

The app will be voluntary and the users, if infected, can choose whether to send their data to the Health Ministry, which should then help doctors follow their primary and secondary contacts and easily track who else might be at risk.

Fake Facebook Pandemic Page Targets N1 TV

The N1 television station was targeted by a post on a Facebook page called ‘COVID 19 Serbia’, which is not the official pandemic response page. The post alleged that N1 is “leading a campaign against the Army of Serbia and the healthcare system” and that it “uses every opportunity to humiliate Serbia”.

Fake Facebook Pandemic Page Accuses Activist

Radomir Lazovic, an activist from the Let’s Not Drown Belgrade campaign, was accused of “zoophilia” in a post on a Facebook page called ‘COVID19 Serbia’, which is not the official pandemic response page. A private photo of Lazovic was also included in the post.

Guardian: UK Government Using Confidential Patient Data in Coronavirus Response

“Technology firms are processing large volumes of confidential UK patient information in a data-mining operation that is part of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak” according to Guardian.

Read more here

Video of Medical Tents Burning on Bosnian-Croatian Border Published on Facebook

A triage tent, set up at the Bosnian border to examine those entering Bosnia from Croatia for symptoms of the coronavirus, caught fire near the western Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa on Sunday morning.

No one was injured, but the tents were damaged and are no longer in use.

The cause of the fire is unknown, however, in a video posted on Facebook, as firefighters arrive at the scene in the background people can be heard singing and laughing.

Kosovo Prosecutor Office Investigates Serb Journalist’s Arrest, Media Organisations Worried

OSCE Media Freedom Representative, Harlem Desir, expressed his concern over Saturday’s arrest of Serbian editor Tatjana Lazarevic in Kosovo’s divided town of Mitrovica.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom also condemned the arrest.

“Stopping and obstructing journalists while they are on duty is a pressure not only on their work but also on freedom of expression. This is also contrary to the Constitution and laws of Kosovo, as well as to international conventions on human rights,” the Kosovo Association of Journalists (AGK) wrote on Facebook.

Deputy Director of Kosovo Police in the country’s north, Besim Hoti, confirmed to Radio Free Europe that the State Prosecutor has asked for details about the arrest.

Top Romanian Professor Posts Anti-Roma Meme

US-based Romanian political history professor Vladimir Tismaneanu, who authored a report used by president Traian Basescu to condemn Communism in 2006, was accused of racism after posting on Facebook a photo of several crows standing on a fence with caption: “Tandarei airport. All flights cancelled.”

Tandarei is a Romanian town with a sizable Roma population that has been isolated by the authorities after several COVID-19 cases were confirmed there. The word ‘crow’ is used in Romania as an insult against people of Roma origin.

Outcome: Tismaneanu removed the post and apologised.

Serbian Health Minister Blames ‘Corona in Newsrooms’ for Press Conference Ban

Serbian Health Hinister, Zlatibor Loncar, said that government banned journalist from coming to the country’s daily COVID-19-related press conferences because “the corona[virus] entered some newsrooms”.

“Considering that this week the corona[virus] has entered some newsrooms and some employees have been infected, and that we want to take care of every citizen, the stance is to prevent the infection from spreading,” Loncar told a press conference on Saturday.

The decision was made that journalists cannot come to the press conference, but they can send questions via email.

Kosovo Newspaper Editor Arrested For Violating Curfew

Tatjana Lazarevic, the editor-in-chief of North Mitrovica’s local new portal, Kossev, was arrested on Saturday by Kosovo Police for allegedly violating Kosovo’s curfew. She was on duty at the time.

The police released Lazarevic later in the day.

“This is another pressure on our journalists, and an attempt to prevent our work,” reports Kossev.info.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kosovo confirmed that the curfew, which was set to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, does not apply to journalists and media workers, who need to report on the disease from the field.

ACLU White Paper: The Limits of Location Tracking in an Epidemic

American Civil Liberties Union has published a paper dealing with location tracking during global pandemic.

Location data contains an enormously invasive and personal set of information about each of us, with the potential to reveal such things as people’s social, sexual, religious, and political associations. The potential for invasions of privacy, abuse, and stigmatization is enormous, says ACLU.

Read more here

Hate Speech on Social Networks towards Quarantined Citizens Returning from Malta

In the past couple of days there has been an increase in hate speech on social networks against Macedonian citizens returning home from Malta, and are isolated in quarantines in different cities. There are claims, especially aimed at those who are isolated in the city of Bitola, that they will spread the coronavirus and infect Bitola’s residents by transmitting it through the air, and through the windows in the hotel where they have been quarantined.

Serbian Govt Tells Media to Ask COVID-19 Questions Online

The Serbian government announced on Friday that instead of asking questions in person about the COVID-19 situation at daily press conferences, journalists must send in their questions online.

The measure will come into force from Saturday and the daily conferences will be broadcast by Radio Television of Serbia and on Tanjug news agency’s YouTube channel.

The government said in a statement that the measure has been imposed “due to growing concern among journalists, cameramen and photojournalists for their health”.

False News about State Funding of Religious Communities

The government has dismissed reports that authorities passed a decree on financially supporting the two main faith communities, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and the Islamic Religious Community, IRC, after they were published by several media outlets.

The government stressed that any approved funding would be used to fund religious communities’ facilities, and that the decision was made back in February.

The leader of the IRC, Imam Sulejman Rexhepi, has threatened to call for mass rallies if the IRC does not receive financial assistance from the state, at a time when restrictive measures on public gatherings are in force due to the coronavirus crisis.

Perpetrator Faces Charges for Posting Lists of Coronavirus Victims

North Macedonia’s Agency for Personal Data Protection has filed criminal charges against an unknown perpetrator for publishing the personal data of citizens living in the northern town of Kumanovo. The perpetrator published various lists on social networks of Kumanovo residents suffering from coronavirus, including their names, dates of birth and locations.

Farmers’ Market Goes Online in Serbia

ePijacaSrbije, an online platform where people can order fruits, vegetables, and other food products, launched in Serbia on Friday. So far, goods can only be ordered from 382 registered vendors.

Majority of market places in Serbia have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Fake Websites Lure Readers with COVID-19 Clickbait

After an investigation, police debunked a network that operated dozens of fake news sites that regularly reported clickbait fake news about COVID-19.

Turkish Government Changes Decision on Banning NGO’s Meetings

The Social Democracy Foundation (SODEV) told BIRN that the Turkish Interior Ministry corrected its decision early Friday morning. Previously, the Ministry banned all NGO gatherings by mistake, including the webinars and other online meetings as part of a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The ministry allows NGOs to organise online conferences, seminars and others but general assembly meetings will be banned until July 1, 2020.

Google: See How Your Community is Moving Around Differently due to COVID-19

Google’s Community Mobility Reports aim to provide insights into what has changed in response to policies aimed at combating COVID-19. The reports chart movement trends over time by geography, across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.

Read more here

Montenegro Detains Opposition Activist Over Fake News About President

Opposition and civic society groups have condemned the arrest and detention of a Democratic Front activist for posting fake news that President Milo Djukanovic was infected with COVID-19, saying ‘fake news cannot be fought with arrests’.

Read more here

Government Official uses Facebook to Threaten Italian Journalist over Coronavirus Reports

ARTICLE 19 has called on a Russian Federation official to withdraw threats he made on Facebook to an Italian journalists reporting on the coronavirus. On 2 April 2020, the spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Defence, General Igor Konashenkov, posted threats about the Italian journalist Jacopo Iacoboni, who has been investigating Russian support to tackle the coronavirus in the Italian region of Lombardy.

Read more here

Montenegro Urged to Delay Law Change Debate in Pandemic

On Thursday, the civic organizations and media in Montenegro have called on Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to postpone public consultations about the draft freedom of information law amid the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 50 civic organizations, journalists and media organizations warned that the lockdown had made participatory debate almost impossible.

Read more here

Kurir Tabloid Attacks N1 TV

The Serbian tabloid newspaper Kurir has accused journalists of N1 television of manufacturing falsehoods and spreading panic and therefore “undermining the credibility of the healthcare system”. 

Serbia’s Ruling Party Sues Over ‘Fake News’ Report

The branch of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in Sabac, said its party commissioner in the town, Boban Birmancevic, had filed a criminal complaint against the newspaper Podrinske and its journalist, Hanibal Kovac, for “spreading fake news” and “spreading panic”.

The party press release said that “lies that members of the Serbian Progressive Party have spread coronavirus around the town could have serious consequences for citizens”.

Turkey Unveils New Law on Social Media Platforms

Turkey plans to introduce a new law on social media platforms. The draft bill, announced Wednesday night, obliges international social media platforms with more than a million users to have a representative in Turkey who will receive complaints about privacy of life, demands and notifications from the government. He/she will also have to answer the government within 72 hours or the government will restrict access by 50 per cent. If he/she then does not answer the government, it will restrict access by 95 per cent. Social media platforms will also have to keep Turkish users’ data in Turkey.

Nurses Recorded Conversations in Hospital about Coronavirus

Two nurses from the University Clinical Hospital in Mostar were caught recording and sharing conversations inside the hospital after the coronavirus appeared in this institution.

In one of the recordings, an unknown speaker reveals that a local businessman who died from COVID-19 used his best man as a connection to be checked in, and talks of the impending collapse of the ward.

The second recording was similar. Despite reports that the two nurses were fired as a result, the hospital director has denied this, while characterising their actions as wrong and “unfair”.

Doctor Used for Online Promotion of Coronavirus ‘Cure’

Dr Željko Ler, an immunology specialist, found his photo and quotes used on promotional material on social networks and online portals for a product called ImmunoMax, which has been touted as a cure for the coronavirus.

His son published a retraction on his own Facebook profile, asking others to share the information that Dr Ler’s image had been used without his permission, while the alleged statements attributed to him were false.

Montenegro Medic Arrested for Publishing List of Coronavirus Patients

Montenegro’s Prosecutor’s Office said the medical staffer in the Health Centre in the capital Podgorica, known only by the initials M.R., had been arrested by police for the crime of unauthorized collection and use of personal information.

After the list of names of infected people and their ID numbers was published on Friday, the Montenegrin government demanded an investigation, which the Prosecutor’s Office led.

Read more here

Bosnia Trying to Censor Information About Pandemic, Journalists Say

The rights organisation Transparency International, TI, in Bosnia and Herzegovina has called on Zeljka Cvijanovic, President of the Serb-led entity, Republika Srpska, to withdraw a decree banning the spread of panic and disorder during a state of emergency, saying that the Bosnia’s constitution does not allow the entities to suspend the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

In Republika Srpska, a decree with the force of law prohibiting the spread of panic and disorder during a state of emergency came into force on Tuesday.

Read more here

Assistant to Mayor of Novi Pazar Removed from Duty after Critical Facebook post

Emir Asceric, the Mayor of Novi Pazar’s assistant, was removed from his position, after criticising Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s visit to the city to deliver medical equipment on Facebook.

Croats Receiving Fake Emails from Police

The Croatian Police’s cyber-security service on Wednesday said it had received several reports from concerned citizens receiving messages and calls from unknown persons on their mobile phones and email addresses.

Police say the emails appeared on behalf of the MUP, or Interior Ministry, with the title “MUP Sharepoint Files” and contain malicious links. It was concluded that these were attempts at cyber fraud, via “vishing” and “phishing” emails, by which perpetrators represent themselves as companies or as another person.

“Using the current situation of the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic, they are trying to intimidate citizens or attract them by fraudulent statements, to collect their personal information or make them to make payments to foreign bank accounts or to crypto-currency accounts,” police said.

Trojan Virus Sent in the Name of Police

On the April 1, an email claiming to come from the Romanian police has been sent to a number of people telling them that they are being investigated and should open an attachment to find out more details about what they have to do. The attachment contains a Trojan virus that takes control of the victims’ computers.

Romanian TV Identity Used in Online Scam Campaign

The Romanian authorities have warned people against a scam campaign that uses the corporate identity of a leading private television station to legitimise a message designed to lure victims into calling an overprice telephone line with the promise of earning quick money.

Thermal Imaging Cameras are Still Dangerous Dragnet Surveillance Cameras

Thermal cameras are still surveillance cameras, says EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). Spending money to acquire and install infrastructure like so-called “fever detection” cameras increases the likelihood that the hardware will long outlive its usefulness during this public health crisis.

Surveillance cameras in public places can chill free expression, movement, and association; aid in the targeted harassment and over-policing of vulnerable populations; and open the door to face recognition at a time when cities and states are attempting to ban it

Read more here

Google Apologizes After its Vision AI Produced Racist Results

In the fight against the novel coronavirus, many countries ordered that citizens have their temperature checked at train stations or airports. The device needed in such situations, a hand-held thermometer, has risen from a specialist item to a common sight.

In an experiment that became viral on Twitter, AlgorithmWatch showed that Google Vision Cloud, a computer vision service, labeled an image of a dark-skinned individual holding a thermometer “gun” while a similar image with a light-skinned individual was labeled “electronic device”. A subsequent experiment showed that the image of a dark-skinned hand holding a thermometer was labelled “gun” and that the same image with a salmon-colored overlay on the hand was enough for the computer to label it “monocular”.

Read more here

Youtube Bans 5G Conspiracy Theory Videos

BBC reported that YouTube has banned all conspiracy theory videos falsely linking coronavirus symptoms to 5G networks. The Google-owned service will now delete videos violating the policy. It had previously limited itself to reducing the frequency it recommended them in its Up Next section.

Read more here

WhatsApp Imposes Strict Forwarding Rules To Combat Misinformation During COVID19 Pandemic

WhatsApp is imposing a new forward limit to stem the tide of coronavirus misinformation on its platform. The Facebook-owned messaging app, said starting today a message that has been already shared five times or over, will only be allowed to be forwarded to one person or group at a time.

Users can learn more about these efforts, as well as how to submit potential myths, hoaxes and rumors to fact checking organizations, on WhatApp’s Coronavirus Information Hub.

Read more here

Social Media Users Share a Photo of an Alleged 5G Transmitter in Zagreb

In recent days, a photo of an antenna lying in the middle of a Zagreb street has been circulating on social media, with the description “while we admire Beros’s team [Croatian Minister of Health for combating coronavirus outbreak] 5G transmitters are being set up in the city centre,” using hashtags in the Croatian language saying “stay home” and “be a sheep”.

Croatian Regulatory Authority for Network Industries (HAKOM) explained to BIRN that the photo shows the antenna system used by the Hrvatski Telekom base station which was removed following the March 22 earthquake. HAKOM explained that those were 2G, 3G and 4G base stations at that specific location – not 5G.

“Testing of the functionality of 5G technology is being carried out in Croatia, for which all three mobile communications operators have requested provisional licenses for the use of the radio-frequency spectrum,” HAKOM said, adding that commercial provision of such services is not allowed.

HAKOM said that recently, they have witnessed the spread of news about 5G technology on social networks and media that are not scientifically and professionally based.

Croatian Parliament Re-Reading Law Allowing Cell Phone Tracking

On Tuesday, the Croatian Parliament called the second reading of a government proposal to amend the Electronic Communications Act, which would legitimise monitoring citizens’ cell phones.

The law change would allow authorities to monitor communication devices of people undergoing self-isolation, however, opposition MPs and other critics fear it will undermine important freedoms.

The president of ruling Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, parliamentary group, Banko Bacic, told reporters that they had proposed a second parliamentary reading because they themselves saw some law enforcement concerns. He added that all opposition-party amendments and suggestions will be submitted to the government.

Fraudsters Promised PPE, but Never Delivered

After protective masks and other PPE were advertised online, when buyers transferred the money, the fraudsters did not ship anything. The victims include private persons, physicians and pharmacies.

Outcome: Two persons have been detained by the police.

Croatian Hotel Watchman Charged for Spreading Fake News

The night watchman of a closed hotel in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik received a misdemeanour charge for Due to spreading false news by posting photos from an earlier gathering on a social network, which he claimed were just happening and were violating the measures imposed against the spread of the coronavirus, Croatian media reported. The citizen posted this while doing his shift.

Outcome: The head of the Dubrovnik-Neretva Police Department, Ivan Pavlicevic, told a news conference at the County Civil Protection Headquarters that the police checked it, and no such gathering took place.

Russia to Stop Restrictions on Media Under the Auspice of the Coronavirus

ARTICLE 19 has warned about Russia’s recent legislation introducing new restrictions on freedom of expression, ostensibly in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The two laws signed by President Putin on 1 April impose harsh penalties on media organisations and individuals for spreading “knowingly false information” related to natural or man-made emergencies. This legislation comes on top of the existing prohibition of “false information”, which ARTICLE 19 found highly problematic and incompatible with international human rights standards. They call on the Russian Government to repeal the legislation.

Read more here

Republika Srpska Penalises Spread of Panic and Fake News

A decree prohibiting spreading panic and disorder during a state of emergency came into force on Tuesday in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS).

The legislation stipulates fines for individuals and companies that spread panic and fake news via the media and social networks in the range of 500 to 4,500 euros.

Opposition parties in RS called the regulation controversial, and claimed it limits freedom of expression.

Central and Eastern Europe Freedom of Information Rights ‘Postponed’

Citing the fight against COVID-19, authorities in a number of Central and Eastern European countries have extended the amount of time state bodies have to respond to freedom of information, FOI, requests, part of what media watchdogs say is a worrying crackdown on press freedom since the onset of the pandemic.

Read more here

Croatian Police Use Drones to Catch Rule Breakers

Police from the Osijek-Baranja County in Croatia on Monday reported recording several violations of measures implemented by National Civil Protection Authorities during the weekend, including several young men playing on a football field in the eastern city of Osijek, which was discovered by a drone.

Police said officers rapidly intervened and registered the young men and removed them from the pitch, and that the State Inspectorate was informed about the event.

Last week, the regional office in Osijek of the Civil Protection Authorities introduced aerial surveillance systems, using drones to monitor implementation of social distancing measures.

Malware Sent to Emails on Behalf of Hospitals

Emails were sent on behalf of local hospitals stating that recipients have been in contact with colleagues, friends or family members who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The user is then asked to go to the nearest hospital to complete tests after completing and printing an attached form, which actually contains malware code.

Hate Speech on Social Media Towards Quarantined Citizens

A man published a post on Facebook in which he called for the public lynching of citizens that are in quarantine, and calling for the hotels where they are staying to be burned down. The police announced that they have launched an investigation into the case.

Municipal Website Publishes Personal Data of an Infected Person

The municipality of Sid in northern Serbia published the personal data of a citizen confirmed as infected with COVID-19. The person’s initials, age, street address and workplace were published on the municipal website.

Outcome: The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of Serbia has initiated an oversight proceeding because of this case

COVID-19: Political Interference in the Media in Kosovo

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) calls on media in Kosovo to refrain from intensifying tensions in a health crisis. The quarantine of the city of North Mitrovica has resulted in inappropriate and unethical media coverage. The EFJ strongly denounces these discrepancies which show strong political interference in some media in Kosovo.

Read more here

Croatian Citizen Spread Fake News About Testing Positive for COVID-19

On Saturday, the Croaitan daily Vecernji list reported that a 34-year-old woman from the country’s Vrbovec area spread panic on social media, announcing that she was infected with the coronavirus.

“This lie has not only annoyed her friends and acquaintances but also colleagues who work with her, who eventually reported it to the police,” the newspaper said.

She will face a criminal charge for spreading fake news.

Serbian Government Withdraws Decision to Control Information on COVID-19

The government in Serbia officially withdrew a decision allowing the central Crisis Staff to receive all local COVID-19-related information and decide on what should be released to the public.

The controversial decision also said that all the information obtained from “unauthorised” sources “cannot be considered accurate and verified,” and threatened to “apply regulations relating to liability and legal consequences for the spread of misinformation in a state of emergency”.

One journalist was arrested after this legislation came into force, but she was released the next morning.

Serbian Government to Centralise COVID-19 Patient Data

The government in Serbia on Friday decided to establish a “unique and centralised software solution – COVID-19 Information System” with all coronavirus-related data about citizens. Both the Interior and Defence ministries will have access to this information.

According to the decision, the central base will have data on “who was cured or died from the diseases caused by COVID-19, data on persons who have been tested (positive or negative for COVID-19), persons who have been told to self-isolate or were put in facilities for the safe accommodation of the population.”

The system will be launched by the Public Health Institute “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, with the technical support from the Office for Information Technology and Electronic Governance and the Republican Health Insurance Fund.

Pseudonymized data should be further distributed to the public.

One Person Arrested in Bosnia and Herzegovina Over Facebook Threats

One person was arrested in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday, after threatening the police on his Facebook page. The suspect had previously been fined for not complying with the government’s curfew, posting several threats to the police in his hometown of Bijeljina.

Croatian Pensioners Call on Public Against Politician’s Statements on Social Media

The Croatian Pensioners’ Union reacted on Friday evening in a press release to Croatian MP Ivan Pernar, after he shared posts on his official Facebook profile that relativised and downplayed the dangers of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The Union described the posts, writing “they called to abolish measures to prevent the spread of the infection, inhumanly explaining that older people have to die anyway”.

“On his Facebook page with more than 300,000 followers, Pernar even made a poll that offers two answers: ‘Every life matters’ and ‘One must die from something’,” the Union wrote, adding that is particularly worrying that 64 per cent of those who answered, “accepted his thesis that one must die from something, especially if you are old”.

“The Croatian Pensioners’ Union, therefore, calls on the public to condemn Pernar’s actions because they are hate speech against the elderly.”

List of Montenegrins With COVID-19 Published on Social Networks

The Montenegrin government has called for an investigation into the publication of a list with names of citizens who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus on social media. On Friday, officials warned that this violates basic human rights. “Government expects institutions to take urgent action and inform the public of the result of the investigation,” it posted on Twitter.

The Montenegrin NGO, Civic Alliance, warned that publishing names of patients on social media can lead to serious consequences. “We have to respect people’s privacy and stop the stigmatisations of infected citizens,” said the NGO.

Istanbul Police Drones Tell People to Stay Home

The Istanbul Police Department has started to use drones equipped with loudspeakers to urge people to return to their homes.

When the drone detects a person in the street, it plays a recorded message.

“I am a police drone. Dear Istanbullites, staying home is vitally important for you and your loved ones’ health. Please do not go out unless it is unavoidable,” the drone message says.

False Pandemic Facebook Page Attacks Journalist

Nova S journalist Ana Lalic was targeted with a sponsored Facebook post on the Facebook page “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official page of the pandemic response. Among other things, the post claimed that “she spread false news on the lack of equipment and medicine in the Vojvodina Clinical Centre” and that she was an example of “ultimate unprofessionalism”.

False Information Spread About Maternity Hospital Closure in Belgrade

Posts about maternity hospital in the centre of Belgrade being closed have been spread on social media. The information is apparently false and the director of this institution said to Serbian daily BLIC that this hospital is working regularly.

CoE Commissioner Accuses Governments of Limiting Press Freedom

The challenges that governments face during the COVID-19 pandemic are no excuse for clamping down on press freedom and restricting access to information, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic said on Friday.  She said various governments were adopting regulations that “clearly risk hampering the work of journalists”, singling out Hungary, Russia, Azerbaijan, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia.

“In Romania, a decree allows the authorities to remove content and block websites where this content provides ‘false information’ … without the possibility to appeal,” she said. In Bosnia, she added, “decrees and legislative proposals aimed at punishing the circulation of information that can cause panic run the risk of limiting the work of journalists”. She also said that although “timely information is essential for the public … the filtering of information and delays in responses to freedom of information requests have been observed in several member states”.

In the Czech Republic, Serbia and Italy, she noted, journalists had been “prevented from attending press conferences, obtaining information from health authorities or documenting the operations of law enforcement officials”. She urged all Council of Europe member states to preserve media freedom and ensure that any measures to combat disinformation are proportionate and subject to regular oversight.

“Countries which have introduced restrictions that do not meet these standards must repeal them as a matter of urgency,” Mijatovic said.

Government in Serbia Legalised Online Criminal Trials

The Serbian government on Thursday issued a decree legalising online criminal trials for those in custody.

The regulation says that if judges “find that the presence of the accused in custody has been made difficult because of the risk of the proliferation of infectious diseases, they may decide that the defendant’s participation shall be ensured through technical means.”

Courts in Serbia have already continued trials via Skype to ensure those accused would not break self-isolation measures.

Fake News on Online Exams Circulating on Social Networks

Srednja.hr, a Croatian website that covers educational issues, reported on Thursday that fabricated screenshots of their website were circulating on social networks. The images allegedly show an article from the website, stating that exams for students attending online classes amid the coronavirus epidemic will be ‘conducted via [Microsoft] Word’. Students would then have to turn on their cameras to take said test, and also sit oral exams via Skype.

Media stressed that this information is not correct and that the instructions on how to evaluate students in distance learning have not yet been issued by the Ministry of Education.

Fake News about Russian Plan to Help Romania Fight Pandemic

The news website  superclipuri.com  published a piece of fake news informing people of supposed plans by the Russian army to deploy forces in Romania to fight the pandemic.

The information is still on the web and no public reactions have been reported.

Compilation of Legal Measures Concerning the Right to Information (RTI) Obligations

On this page you can find a compilation of legal measures which temporarily alter or even suspend right to information (RTI) obligations due to COVID-19. The first part contains an alphabetic list of any countries which have adopted formal measures, along with a short description of those measures. For the purposes of this list, we are including laws and decrees, as well as formal policy statements, but not informal statements, announcements or practices. We are including here cases where measures, following introduction, have been overturned or repealed, so as to provide a historical record of all such measures.

The second part contains other relevant information, such as formal measures that have been proposed or are under discussion or reports of such measures that we have been unable to confirm. This page only tracks information about formal changes, however, and does not contain information on implementation or announcements.

Read more here

Four Face Charges for Spreading False Information

Media in Croatia reported on March 30 that police had filed a report against four persons who posted unconfirmed information about the COVID-19 epidemic, including the number of people tested and infected in the Virovitica-Podravina County, on social networks and in comments below
online articles.

On April 2, Virovitica-Podravina County police confirmed to BIRN that four persons had been reported for the misdemeanour of “fabricating or spreading fake news” and now faced criminal charges.

Counter-Terrorism Police in Albania Seek Punishment Spreading COVID-19 Conspiracy

Albania’s counter-terrorism police force is seeking penal charges for about ten people for allegedly using Facebook to spread fake news.

Local media reports that one social media user said there is a plot to impoverish people in Europe, to cause social uproar and suggesting coronavirus was a biological weapon.

The police collected the information by observing Facebook posts and comments.

Human Rights and Civil Liberties Organisations: Don’t Use the Coronavirus Pandemic as Cover for Expanding Digital Surveillance

Access Now, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, Share Foundation and more than 100 human rights and civil liberties organisations and consumer groups from all over the world are uniting to tell governments not to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to usher in digital surveillance.

In a joint statement, the signing organisations urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

Read more here

Journalist Arrested for Article about Hospital Conditions

A journalist from the media outlet Nova S portal was arrested at her home on Wednesday over a text she wrote on allegedly bad working conditions and the lack of protective equipment for medical staff during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Vojvodina Clinical Centre. She was detained for 48 hours in police custody. Police intervened after the hospital issued a statement accusing the journalist of spreading false information about conditions in the clinic and of “disturbing the public and damaging the reputation of the health institution”.

Outcome: Journalist arrested, the police confiscated two of her phones and a computer. She was released from detention on April 2.

Read more here

Fake News about Ban on Tourist Vessels Denounced

On April 1, the Croatian government dismissed a fake news report spread on social media that it had banned tourist vessels from Croatian waters from April 1 to July 31. The government said that a document, which supposedly showed the alleged decision to ban the passage of tourist vessels from the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea, was completely false, as the government has not adopted any such decision.

Man Arrested for Circulating False Information Released

Serbia on Wednesday arrested a 34-year-old man over a tweet, on suspicion of spreading misinformation about the 24-hour curfew. On Wednesday evening, media reported that he had been released, as he was not the original author of the false report. He told police that he was not the author of this information and had got it from his wife, who works at the Foreign Ministry. Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the police would continue to seek for whoever was responsible for the report.

Related updated title: Man arrested in Serbia for Spreading Fake News on Twitter

Related update date: 1.4.2020.

Doctor Target of Misogyny on Social Media

Deputy Director of the Institute for Public Health of Serbia Dr Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, one of Serbia’s main experts on the COVID-19 response, has been targeted with misogynistic insults on social media, mainly commenting on her appearance. The insults have been condemned by Serbia’s Equality Commissioner.

Blog: “For Turkish Journalists, Fear of Contracting COVID-19 Competes with Fear of Arrest”

Turkey has taken hundreds of people into police custody for “provocative” social media posts about the pandemic, as stated by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on March 25. Government media watchdog RTÜK fined three TV channels due to their reporting on the coronavirus, according to news reports, and police have either taken into custody or summoned for questioning at least eight journalists about their coronavirus stories or tweets in March, CPJ has found.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke to journalist Evrim Kepenek, who works in Istanbul, about her work during the pandemic.

Read more here

MOSS launched COVID-19 Solutions Fund

Mozilla created a COVID-19 Solutions Fund as part of the Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS). Through this fund, they will provide awards of up to $50,000 each to open source technology projects which are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in some way.

Read more here

CoE Urged to Stop Countries Abusing Pandemic to Curb Freedoms

Singling out Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic as especially worrying examples, ten human rights organisations including Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders have written to the Council of Europe and other official bodies, urging them to address the danger of governments misusing the coronavirus crisis to pursue authoritarian policies.

Read more here

Person Prosecuted for Spreading Misinformation on COVID-19 in Kosovo

Kosovo Police have identified a suspect who allegedly circulated a text message with misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The message invited citizens to be tested for the coronavirus at Kosovo University Clinical Center (UCCK), claiming that due to their blood type, they were predisposed to the disease.

Kosovo Police will prosecute this as a criminal case.

Fake Doctor Spreads False Information on Pandemic

Police from the town of Porec reported on April 1 that after an anonymous report by a citizen, they suspected a 29-year-old woman of spreading fake news on a social network. According to the police, the suspect falsely presented herself as a doctor working at a hospital in the town of Pula, sharing tips and giving false information about the number of COVID-19 patients in the area, and “so disturbing the citizens”. An indictment has been filed against the woman for violating the Law on Misdemeanors Against Public Order and Peace.

#ProtectDemocracyDuringCorona Started Online Petition

Members of the European Parliament and Civil Society Organisations launched an online petition demanding democratic control of state measures taken in light of the Corona Pandemic.

Read more here

Man arrested in Serbia for Spreading Fake News on Twitter

Police in Serbia arrested a person on Wednesday under suspicion of spreading panic and causing disorder by spreading fake news on Twitter saying the country would implement of 24-hours-long curfew.

On Tuesday evening, Serbian Interior Minister warned citizens that disinformation was circulating on social networks, about the alleged new government measure to impose a 24 hour curfew. Serbian tabloid, Informer, claimed that the fake news was being spread via SMS.

This notification was also published on COVID19.rs.

Facebook User Threatens Citizens Who Report Violations of Self-isolation

On March 31, Croatian media reported that a citizen who has been prescribed self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 posted a video of himself threatening citizens who are reporting violations of self-isolation orders to the authorities. He also called for violence, saying that some people are organized and ready to fight. The media reported that police had intervened and started a criminal investigation.

Serbian Govt Takes Control of Information Flow About Pandemic

Under new rules on the flow of information about the coronavirus, local crisis headquarters or health institutions can no longer talk directly to the public but must send all their data to the national crisis staff – which will then transmit it to the public.

Serbian Govt Announce an Online COVID-19 Test

An online COVID-19 test has been available to all health insurance carriers in Serbia on Wednesday. Once taken, the findings are automatically sent to a physician working in the country’s 24-hour Health Centres.

The portal is to function as a self-assessment tool from which users can receive follow-up information and directly communicate and ask questions of medical professionals.

Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, explained on Twitter that the system works by simply logging in with a person’s health insurance number.

“We aim to reduce congestion and waiting and speed up the healing process. This is every individual’s struggle and we will only win together,” she said.

Telekom Srbija Users Receive SMS From “COVID-19 Crisis Staff”

Users of Serbia-owned mobile operator, Telekom Srbija, received a text message on Tuesday evening from the COVID-19 crisis staff, saying the country was “approaching a scenario similar to Italy, Spain” on Tuesday evening.

“Situation is dramatic. We are approaching scenario from Italy and Spain. Please stay at home” the message read.

It was signed by the “crisis staff for the suppression of infectious diseases COVID-19” and instead of telephone number it was written “Covid19”.

Message caused outrage on social networks and Telekom itself explained on Twitter it was “generic and sent by crisis staff”.

Belarusian Journalist Arrested for Criticizing president’s Covid-19 Approach

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the immediate release of a Belarusian news website editor who is facing up to ten years in prison on a corruption charge after criticizing the president’s relaxed approach to the Covid-19 epidemic.

His arrest came three days after he published an editorial – headlined “Who is sowing panic about coronavirus, the president or websites and TV channels?”

The Belarusian government is trying to intimidate independent media outlets, RSF says.

Read more here

RSF Launches Tracker 19 to Track Covid-19’s Impact on Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is launching Tracker-19 to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on journalism and to offer recommendations on how to defend the right to information.

Read more here

Govt Posts Screenshots of Politicians’ Private Messages

The North Macedonian government posted on its website screenshots of private communications between state secretary Dragi Raskovski and opposition VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickovski. The government claims to have published the material to show how Mickovski was pressuring government officials over their efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Council of Europe: “Saving Lives, Respecting Data Protection”

Alessandra Pierucci, Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Convention 108, and Jean-Philippe Walter, Data Protection Commissioner of the Council of Europe, insist that personal data be protected despite the global COVID-19 pandemic and in the various measures taken to prevent the virus’ spread that can put these rights at risk.

The Council of Europe has developed a series of recommendations and guidelines that can help governments, authorities, employers make better decisions in the current circumstances.

Read more here

List of COVID-19 Patients Circulated on Croatian Island

Local media outlet SibenikIN reported on March 31 that a message containing a list of infected patients has been shared among people living on the Croatian island of Murter, where 17 people are infected with the coronavirus. A journalist from SibenikIN told BIRN that his sources reported to him that the list is being circulated in various ways, via text message, Viber or WhatsApp.

The local police office confirmed to BIRN that it has been alerted about the issue and that “police are conducting investigations and will, in accordance with the law in force, take measures and actions prescribed by the law”.

COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

The COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.

The tracker is a collaborative effort by the ICNL, ECNL, and their global network of partners, with generous research support from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin.

The ICNL has also launched an issue page where they presented key resources on how the coronavirus response is impacting civic space and the existing international law framework on upholding human rights during the crisis.

 

Tracking Cell Phones Not Prevention Against Coronavirus, Croatian NGOs Warn

Forty-four civil society organisations in Croatia rang the alarm over a proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Act on Tuesday, warning that “monitoring every cell phone in the country is not a measure to protect citizens from the coronavirus but an unnecessary violation of human rights”.

“We all have given up important activities, shown patience, responsibility and trust towards competent institutions during this time. However, this trust will be undermined if the measures taken are not carefully focused on combating the infection and its consequences,” the organisations said in a press release.

As BIRN reported last week, the law change would allow authorities to monitor communications devices of people undergoing self-isolation, worrying opposition MPs and others – who fear that it will undermine important freedoms.

Battling Coronavirus, Moldova Targets Unwanted Media ‘Opinion’

A short-lived order for media in Moldova to refrain from printing or broadcasting ‘opinion’ and to convey only the position of authorities during a state of emergency imposed to aid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has set alarm bells ringing in the former Soviet republic.

Read more here

Recommendations on Privacy and Data Protection in the Fight Against COVID-19

Access Now published a report that contains recommendations for governments on how to develop measures to tackle #COVID19 in a rights-respecting manner.

Access Now’s Recommendations on Privacy and Data Protection in the Fight against COVID-19 focuses on three categories of measures that authorities have prominently advanced around the world: (1) collection and use of health data, (2) tracking and geolocation, and (3) public-private partnerships.

Read more here

Scam Promising Big Prize Winning

A scam is spreading in sponsored Facebook posts that promises everyone will get a €200 bonus when gambled, will earn users a “fabulous fortune”. However, some amount of real money must be paid to participate in the “game”

News Site Claims SARS-CoV-2 Was Fabricated in Chinese Lab

The news site Pesti Srácok, which is part of the government media, posted a video and an article claiming the novel coronavirus was created in a Chinese laboratory.

However, the referenced video was from a 2015 show by Italy’s Rai media outlet and was about viruses in bats that can endanger humans as well.

Croatian Politician Downplays Danger of COVID-19

A Croatian MP, Ivan Pernar, has shared posts on his official Facebook profile that relativise and downplay the danger of the COVID-19 epidemic. One claims that “the story about quarantine is one big craze introduced by the Chinese to suppress protests in Hong Kong”. Another post urges citizens
to leave their homes, against recommendations of competent health institutions who advise staying indoors.

Politician Arrested for Posting ‘False News’ on Facebook

The President of the Republican Party, Nikola Sandulovic, was arrested for a Facebook post on suspicion of having committed the crimes of causing panic and unrest, and of obstructing justice and preventing a public servant from performing an official act.

He will be detained for 48 hours, after which he will be brought before the public prosecutor. The reason was a Facebook video that he published, which reportedly “contained false news and thus influenced the enforcement of decisions and measures to combat the coronavirus”. He also “threatened to obstruct the public prosecutor in the exercise of prosecutorial function, but also threatened to use force against police officers who have taken official measures against him within their authority”.

Organisations Call On Slovenian Govt to Stop Harassing Investigative Journalist

Slovenian investigative journalist and correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Blaž Zaga has been targeted by a hate campaign fueled by the government on social networks and in the media since he sent an official Freedom of Information Request on the COVID-19 pandemic to the authorities in Ljubljana.

In a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior Aleš Hojs on Monday 23 March, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), RSF and five other organisations voice their concern regarding the security of the journalist. In the absence of a response from the authorities, RSF and the other organisations have decided to make this correspondence public.

The common letter calls on the Slovenian government to grant journalists their right to report on the sanitary crisis freely and independently, but also to guarantee them an open access to information.

Read more here

Hungarian Parliament Passed ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’

Hungarian parliament passed ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’ by a supermajority today. Law lets Orban-led government rule by decree, and opposition parties and human rights groups have warned that it will give govt unlimited power.

Read more about the ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’

 

Truck Driver Detained in Turkey for Spreading “Fake News on Social Media Platforms”

Malik Baran Yılmaz, a Turkish truck driver, was detained on Sunday for spreading fake news on social media platforms.  

“You say stay home, how can I stay home? I am not retired, I am not a public servant, I am not rich, I am a worker, and I am a truck driver. If I do not work there is no bread for me and I cannot pay my bills and rent. Not paying those is worse than death,” he said in a TikTok video.

“This virus cannot kill me but your system will kill me,” he added.

Yilmaz was later released but he’s banned from travelling abroad and a criminal case was opened against him.

Man Arrested for Threatening Police on Facebook

A 34-year-old man from the southern Serbian town of Leskovac has been arrested and faces criminal charges because of a post on Facebook in which, according to the official statement, he “threatened to use force against police officers if they try to undertake official actions against him during the curfew”.

He is charged with attempting to prevent a public servant from performing an official act and will be detained for 48 hours – after which he will be brought before the public prosecutor in Leskovac to hear the criminal charges.

Turkey Opened Over 400 Investigations Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Turkish Justice Minister, Abdulhamit Gul, announced that the Prosecution Office began legal investigations into 459 people in fifty-eight different cities across the country amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“385 people who manipulated the news and social media posts, eight people who insulted elderly people, 55 people who stockpiled goods for the black market, and eleven people who violate quarantine measures are subjects of these investigations,” Gul said.

Concerns about SMS Messages Sent on Extended Isolation

A number of citizens of Serbia have received SMS messages from the government saying that their house isolation period is extended for another 14 days, if they haven’t already been issued with a 28-day isolation measure. The messages were supposedly sent to the phone numbers of all citizens who had entered Serbia after March 14. What is unclear is how the government got hold of their private mobile numbers, and what the legal basis for this action was.

Former Info Commissioner Targeted by false Facebook Page

Lawyer Rodoljub Sabic was the target of insults and disinformation on the Facebook page “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official page of the pandemic response. The former Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection is well known for his public criticism of the Serbian government.

Court Forbids Citizen from Using Twitter

The Basic Court in the town of Cacak has banned a citizen from communicating with other Twitter users, based on suspicion that he committed the crime impersonation, which applies to false representation as official and military personnel.

Best Practices for Using Data during a Crisis

For 15 years, Palantir has helped institutions use data effectively yet responsibly. They have recommended a set of principles that organizations combating COVID-19 should follow to maintain this balance while using data science and technology to advantage in their response.

 

Read more here

As Schools Close Over Coronavirus, Protect Kids’ Privacy in Online Learning

The educational disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in speed and scale. As of today, over 160 countries have closed schools. Education authorities are scrambling to provide remote learning for more than 87% of the world’s student population now missing class. But in the frantic rush to figure out which internet education technologies – EdTech – to use, governments and schools need to factor data privacy considerations in their selection criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

Read more here

Over 1,000 Prosecuted for Breaking Curfew in Serbia

So far, 1,253 people in Serbia were prosecuted for breaking the country’s curfew while 678 people were caught violating self-isolation, Police Director, Vladimir Rebic, said in an interview on Sunday.

He told local media that on a daily basis, between 100 and 200 people have violated the curfew. He added that so far 303 elderly people violated their ban on movement.

Croatian Government Supported by Citizens in Fight Against COVID-19

On Saturday evening, Croatian television network, Nova TV, published an opinion survey about the government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic.

According to a survey conducted by IPSOS, the Croatian government has enormous support in its fight against COVID-19, with 94 per cent of citizens believe that it is taking appropriate measures.

Since mid-March, a series of measures were put in place to ensure stricter social distancing measure to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus.

Fake Video of Nationalist Chants Shared on Social Media

An anonymously edited video of a montage of nationalist chants from a football match in Croatia onto a video of citizens in Mostar applauding from their balconies to support medical workers amid the coronavirus outbreak was shared on social networks and messaging apps like Viber.

Several political actors criticised the video, including members of the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The party later issued an apology on its social media pages, after the video was proven to be fake. The video has since been removed.

Spreading Rumours on Social Networks about People Infected with the Coronavirus

Several incidents have been registered on social networks where there has been a spread of rumours about people infected with COVID-19, working in some of Skopje’s biggest supermarkets. Health authorities have not confirmed such cases in their daily press conferences about coronavirus-related developments.

Open Letter: Civil Society Urges Member States to Respect the Principles of the Law in Terrorist Content Online Regulation

On 27 March 2020, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and 12 of its member organizations sent an open letter to representatives of Member States in the Council of the EU. In the letter, we voice our deep concern over the proposed legislation on the regulation of terrorist content online and what we view as serious potential threats to fundamental rights of privacy, freedom of expression, etc.

You can read the letter here (pdf)

Virus Updates Map Launched in Bosnia

The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Federation entity has launched a website with a map offering live updated tracking of cases of COVID-19 for this part of the country. The map can be found here.

Citizens Receive Fraudulent Banking Messages

Citizens of Serbia received fraudulent SMS messages asking them, as bank clients, to provide their personal data, such as unique master citizens number, bank account numbers etc, regarding the payment of pensions. The Serbian Bank Association warned that this was fraud and the police asked citizens to report if they received such messages.

Journalist Targeted by False Facebook Page

A Beta news agency editor, Dragan Janjic, was targeted as a “journalist who maliciously and falsely informs the citizens of Serbia” in a sponsored Facebook post on a page called “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official Facebook page of the pandemic response. The page has been shut down in the meantime.

Journalist Insulted on Facebook after Publishing Article

Vreme weekly journalist Jovana Gligorijevic was targeted by insults in the Facebook comments below an article she wrote about the press conferences of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, which have been held during the coronavirus pandemic.

Serbia Launches Official COVID-19 Info Channel on Viber

In Cooperation with Viber, the Serbian government has launched a COVID-19 information channel on this application. Citizens will now be able to better inform themselves about the virus, receive official instructions and ask questions related to COVID-19 via the Viber channel.

False Claims about Coronavirus-Infected Prisoners

Several web portals reported about a statement from a noted lawyer who claimed that there are cases of coronavirus-infected prisoners in the country who are not being given any medical assistance. The authorities later denied these claims, saying that there were no such cases in prisons.

Share Foundation Called Mobile Providers to Keep People Connected to the Internet

SHARE Foundation calls on internet service providers and operators in Serbia to keep people connected to the internet, regardless of their payment status during the state of emergency. Due to the declared state of emergency and social distancing practices, it said, a huge part of citizens’ daily lives has shifted to the online environment – including education, culture, work, etc. Some segments of internet use are seen as vital during the pandemic.

Reporters Without Borders and Other Media Organisations Write to EU about Hungary’s CV-19 Legislation

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins eight other organisations for the defense of freedoms in order to express its profound concern about the risk that governments use the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine fundamental rights and free flow of information. The draft law discussed in Hungary is a step towards a complete repression of press freedom. Yet, the need for media scrutiny is now stronger than ever.

Read more here

Eight Mobile Phone Carriers Agree to Share Users’ Data with Commission

Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and five other telecoms providers have agreed to share mobile phone location data with the European Commission to help track the spread of the coronavirus, the lobbying group GSMA said on Wednesday.

Read more here

Montenegro Ombudsman: Strict Measures Necessary

Montenegrin Ombudsman Sinisa Bjekovic said on Thursday that strict measures for preventing the spread of COVID -19 are necessary but they must be balanced with human rights.

“The degree of infection risk is high so it requires an immediate and effective response,” Bjekovic told MINA news agency.

He added that the experience of countries that went through a surge in cases before Montenegro show that “less restrictive measures did not produce the expected results”.

Serbian Ministry Publishes Deceased Patients’ Medical Data

The Serbian Health Ministry published a statement on its website which included information about other illnesses from which two people who died from complications caused by the coronavirus had been suffering. The two people were identified by their initials and year of birth.

Hungarian Coronavirus Bill Will Have “Chilling Effect” on Media

The bill submitted last week amends rules under a state of emergency to give the government the power to rule by decree and suspend any existing law. It would permanently amend the criminal law to introduce punishment of one to five years in prison for anyone convicted of spreading “falsehood” or “distorted truth” deemed to obstruct efforts to combat the pandemic.

Read more here

Serbian Courts to Try Defendants via Skype

The Serbian Justice Ministry said on Thursday that courts that will conduct proceedings against people who violate self-isolation measures via video link.

“The ministry informed the courts that it is necessary for their IT staff to provide the necessary conditions to enable proceedings against people violated the self-isolation measure to be conducted. This implies that the courts have cameras and a microphone installed and a Skype program on them,” the ministry said in press release.

According to the ministry, there are 108 people in custody for violating self-isolation measures: 44 in Vrsac, 43 in Pozarevac and 21 in Pirot.

Montenegrin Prosecutor Warns Against Violating Restrictions

Special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic said on Thursday that prosecutors are working on cases against “those who do not respect government measures to combat the epidemic”. He told Dan newspaper that prosecutors would also tackle any cases of people “spreading panic” amid the coronavirus crisis.

Concern for Rights in Montenegro amid COVID-19 Fight

Montenegro, a country of some 630,000 people, has at least 29 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and one death. Since the outbreak, police have stepped up action against those accused of spreading false information and, ignoring the protests of opposition and rights organisations, published the names of people required to self-isolate due to the virus.

The country, which has been run by the same party for the past three decades, has a long record of restricting human rights and violating data privacy rights.

Activists fear the government will exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to clamp down further. The government says its overriding priority is to protect the lives and health of Montenegrin citizens.

Read more here

Slovakia to Collect Phone Data to Fight Coronavirus

Slovakia’s new government has proposed coronavirus legislation that would allow it to impose emergency measures in the judiciary, social care system and sphere of digital rights.

Parliament has already approved a law allowing authorities to collect data from people’s phones and trace contacts who may be infected with COVID-19. The law passed on Wednesday is only valid during the state of emergency, and until December 31 at the latest. Its use is restricted to tackling the pandemic.

The state aims to collect data in an anonymised form so it can collate statistics and provide key information to help the Public Health Office trace and test people with possible infections.

Website Ordered to Close for Publishing Fake News

The Interior Ministry has ordered the closure of website breackingnews.xyz after it repeatedly published fake news, creating panic through disinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic. The website was generated outside Romania and authorities could not get in touch with those in
charge.

Outcome: The website will be closed by the authorities.

Ministry Orders Removal of Online Fake News

The Ministry of the Interior on March 25 ordered the “removal at source” of an online news article published by the website bpnews.ro that claimed the coronavirus can be killed using a medical drug called Polidin. Before taking this decision, the authorities contacted the website owner, who
refused to remove the content.

Outcome: The content will be removed by the authorities.

Facebook Users Misinforming About Coronavirus Test Costs

The Croatian fact-checking website Faktograf reported on March 25 that social networks users were spreading misinformation about the test for the novel coronavirus, claiming it was cheaper in Germany than Croatia. One such announcement, which claims that the test costs almost 100 euros (700 kunas) in Croatia and only 2.5 euros in Germany, has been shared on Facebook over 1,400 times. Faktograf said the test in Croatia does cost 700 kunas, but that it costs twice as much in Germany – 200 euros.

Legal Basis for Tracking Serbian Citizens Remains Unclear

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has mentioned numerous times that the state is following the movement of its citizens through their mobile devices, especially those who returned to the country after March 14.

While maintaining that reason for taking these additional tracking measures is to slow the spread of COVID19, it is still unknown which particular law gives the right to follow locations via phone to the authorities.

Mapping Attacks on Media Freedom During the Coronavirus Crisis

Index on Censorship and Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ) announce a joint global initiative to monitor attacks and violations against the media, specific to the current coronavirus-related crisis.

Media freedom violations will be catalogued with a map hosted in Index’s current website and on the Justice for Journalists Media Risk Map.

 

Croatian Proposal to Track Self-Isolating Citizens Alarms Critics

As Croatian MPs discussed a proposed law amendment, that would allow authorities easier access to citizens’ information amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, opposition lawmakers warned that it could limit citizens’ rights to freedom of movement and their privacy.

Last week, the government, led by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, proposed a change of the Electronic Communications Act under which, in extraordinary situations, the health minister would ask telecommunications companies to provide data on the locations of users’ terminal equipment.

Read more here.

COVID-19: Dealing with Gaps in the Data

The information we rely on is approximate and often errs on the side of caution (for example, the number of infected people, or deaths caused by the pandemic). It’s important to be aware of these limitations, and approach the data with caution, even if this data is the best we have, given the present circumstances. Of all official data on the global situation, that produced by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is considered among the most reliable. Nevertheless, new and more accurate studies are emerging every day, providing additional data to help understand the pandemic and its course of development.

Read more here.

Journalists and Intellectuals in Slovenia Targeted by the Defamation and Hate Campaign

A journalist, Blaz Zgaga has been the target of a smear and hate campaign since March 15 of this year and has received several death threats from far-right groups. The harassment originates from a retweet by the government of a claim that the journalist is a “psychiatric patient who escaped quarantine” via the @KrizniStabRS account (the account of the Crisis Management Centre). The retweet mentioned that three other “psychiatric patients”, including the intellectual Slavoj Zizek, were wanted as well. The retweet was deleted from the @KrizniStabRS account only a few hours later.

Nova24TV, however, a media outlet funded by the Hungarian government and whose editor- in-chief, Ales Hojs, was recently appointed Slovenia’s Minister of the Interior, accused Blaz Zgaga, among others things, of questioning the measures taken by the government to respond to the health emergency and to inform the population of news related to COVID-19.

These measures include the creation of a “crisis cell of the Republic of Slovenia” and the Twitter account @KrizniStabRS, where the retweet in question was posted. Previously, Blaz Zgaga had approached the authorities to ask for more information about the management of this “crisis cell”.

Bosnia Will Not Publish Names of Infected

The Bosnian Federal government confirmed on Wednesday that it will not publish the names of people who are infected, self-isolated or have been put under isolation orders. However, the names and addresses of those who violate isolation measures will be made public.

On March 21, the authorities in the Canton 10 area published the personal data of 238 people who had been isolated or had self-isolated, most of whom had not violated isolation orders. Following this, authorities in Trebinje, Konjic and Celic also published lists of people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Croatia Shuts Website for Fraudulently Collecting Data

A recently-launched website called samoizolacija.hr, which said it was allowing people to report others who violate the self-isolation rules designed to prevent coronavirus infection, has been shut down for fraudulently collecting personal data, Croatian police told media on Tuesday evening.

Police have launched an investigation into the site, which was asking “conscientious citizens” to enter their own personal data and information about the violator, promising to forward the information to the police. But the Croatian government pointed out that the police have their own  application for reporting such violations.

Citizen Fined for Commenting on the Bosnian Government’s Performance on Facebook

Gradiska Police Department issued a resident a 1,000 BAM (500 Euro) fine for “causing panic and disorderly conduct during an emergency situation,” and that his Facebook comments “deeply offend [Republika Srpska] organs’ representatives.”

The contents of the suspect’s post were not made public, but the PR office for the Gradiska Police Department clarified that the comment was related with the introduction of a mandatory curfew due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Citizen Penalised for Publishing an Audio Recording about the Zenica Medical Centre

The suspect, with the initials O.S., was issued a 200 BAM (100 Euro) fine for publishing a recording of a conversation with an employee of the Zenica Medical Centre on Facebook, in which he asked to be tested for the novel coronavirus, but was told there were no tests and it was impossible to do so.

The recording, in which the suspect warned the employee that he came from Germany, that he was not feeling well, that he had the symptoms and was afraid for his health as well as his immediate family, was soon spread across social media networks.

He was issued a fine from the Zenica Police Department, with the explanation that he caused “disturbance and disapproval from the citizens”.

Bosnian Data Agency Issues Ban on Publishing Personal Data

Bosnia’s Personal Data Protection Agency has issued a ban for all levels of authorities to publicly reveal personal data of individual infected with coronavirus, as well as those violating mandatory quarantine and/or isolation citing Personal Data Protection Act.

This decision comes after the government of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina urged the Federal Department of Civilian Protection to consider issuing an order which would allow local authorities to publish personal data of those affected by COVID-19

Police Officers Taunt and Provoke People via Social Media

Two police officers taunted and offended people via social networks about the ongoing curfew in the country. The Interior Ministry said that the officers will be fined. In another case, the Interior Ministry announced that another person who made similar claims on social networks was in fact impersonating a police officer, and will face a fine of up to 800 euros

Republika Srpska Releases Names of First to Violate Isolation Measures

Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity has launched a website containing information on the coronavirus, where they will also publish the names of people who did not adhere to Republika Srpska’s self-isolation measures.

The names of the first 30 people were released on Tuesday.

Anyone who breaks isolation measures in the country will be moved to quarantine

 

Bulgarian Govt Introduces Fines, Questionable Police Access

The Bulgarian Law on measures and actions during an emergency state was promulgated on Tuesday. Breaking the measures can result in fines in the range of 5 to 15,000 lv (around 2.5 to 7,500 euros) and 1,000 to 10,000 lv and even five years in prison for spreading misinformation, panic or making mock calls to authorities.

Businesses which have been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can have 60 per cent of employees’ wages covered by the National Social Security Institute.

Concerns have been raised as the law also states that the police now have unprecedented access to citizens’s phone and internet data, notes the website mediapool.bg.

The Fake Website Collects Information about Violators of Self-isolation Measures

A web site samoizolacija.hr (self-isolation.hr) has been launched recently, where citizens can report other citizens who violate the rules of self-isolation that have been designated to prevent coronavirus infection. The web site requires from the “conscientious citizen” to enter information about the person who violates self-isolation (name and surname, address) and the personal information of the person who is reporting. Website administrators wrote that they are forwarding this information to the Croatian police.

However, the official Twitter profile of the Croatian government kornonavirus.hr warns that such information should not be given on the website and that the Croatian police have an application “Confidence and Security” on which such violations can be reported.

Bosnian Citizen Tests Positive for COVID-19, Receives Online Threats

A resident of the Bosnian city of Lukavac received threats and insults via social media networks from neighbours and other residents, after it came to light that the victim, who came back from Miami after working on a cruise ship, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Threats were also directed towards her family members, while the victim told the press that these actions had driven her to have suicidal thoughts, while characterising the attacks as a “lynching”.

Falsified Letter of Human Resources Minister Shared Widely

On March 21, 2020, Miklos Kasler, Minister of Human Resources, sent an official letter to pathologists, in which he explained the procedure necessary for examining deaths in connection to the novel coronavirus.

A falsified version of the letter is circulating on social media, which states that the number of people who died from illnesses related to COVID-19 cannot be made public, and that other diseases should be cited as their cause of death. The letter also has false information about the number of dead in the country.

Outcome: Police launched an investigation

Russian Citizen Arrested in Montenegro for Spreading Panic

Montenegrin police in the coastal town of Tivat arrested Russian citizen for spreading panic about a novel coronavirus. The Police Directorate of Montenegro said the suspect falsely posted on social media that around one thousand people were infected in Montenegro and that six people died from complications of the virus.

“She will face prosecution in Kotor,” the police said in a press release.

So far, 22 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Montenegro, and one person has died.

Republika Srpska To Publish Names of Citizens who Break Self-Isolation

Republika Srpska’s Interior Ministry will start publishing the names of those who violate the entity’s home-isolation measures beginning Tuesday.

In the last 24 hours, 2,225 people, who were ordered to self-isolate, were being monitored in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity. Twenty-seven residents were caught breaking this measure.

Authorities Accused of Lacking Transparency About Pandemic

Media NGOs in Moldova signed a common protest on Sunday, accusing the authorities of lacking transparency about the scale of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

“Non-governmental organisations in the media ask the state authorities and institutions to ensure correct and professional collaboration with media institutions, refraining from unfounded accusations and insinuations against journalists who request public interest information to inform objectively and completely,” the petition signed by eight media NGOs says.

It comes after two cases of infected doctors from different hospitals were reported on March 19 and March 22. The authorities did not confirm them in the first phase, however. Only media outlets reported about them.

The authorities have also avoided giving out precise data on medical supply stocks and specific numbers related to the pandemic.

Read more here.

Bosnian Fined for Instagram Post about Virus

A woman from Bosanska Gradiška was fined 1,000 marks (500 euros) fine for “causing panic and disorderly conduct” during emergency measures imposed to tackle the coronavirus in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity. The woman claimed on Instagram that the local government was hiding the fact that another person from Bosanska Gradiska had tested positive for COVID-19, and also accused the “fake media” and the government of acting out of political interest and not because of a health crisis.

Fake Message from Croatian Police Circulating, Requesting Personal Data

The official Twitter account of the Croatian authorities’  koronavirus.hr site, set up to provide information about the coronavirus outbreak, reported on March 20 that fake messages about Croatian Police collecting citizens’ personal data (in order to monitor self-isolation measures) is circulating in the digital environment. The sender of the message, signed as MUP HR (Croatian Interior Ministry), asks the recipient to send back personal information and a copy of a personal ID document. The authorities said however that Croatian police are not collecting personal information through mobile applications. They also urged the public to report such cases.

Hackers Step up Cyberattacks on Hospitals amid Pandemic

Cyberattacks targeting hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and distributors of medical equipment soared in March worldwide as hackers took advantage of the strain the coronavirus pandemic has put on the health sector.

Romanian cybersecurity giant Bitdefender said on Friday that online attacks linked to Covid-19 “have risen by 475 per cent in March as compared to the previous month”, and the numbers are expected to keep increasing until the end of the month.

“Almost one third of the Covid-19-related attacks target public authorities and healthcare institutions,” Bitdefender said in a statement.

One of the medical centres targeted was a hospital in the Czech Republic currently being used for tests against coronavirus.

Bitdefender’s security specialist Filip Truta said that “the cyberattack thwarts efforts in fighting the pandemic”.

Hackers usually infect computers by fooling medical institutions’ personnel with “information about medical procedures and therapies to treat COVID-19 infections”, said Bitdefender. Such messages are mostly sent in the name of institutions such as the World Health Organisation.

Tracking the Movements of Quarantined Persons Based on Phones

During a press conference held on March 19, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said that since there are “some catastrophic exceptions” regarding the quarantine measures for Serbian citizens coming from abroad, the police monitors “Italian phone numbers”. “We monitor Italian mobile phone numbers, not to spy, but to see if some people are in roaming and moving around…”, said Vučić. He also said that there is “another method” of tracking people’s movements even when they leave their phones behind.

Phishing Campaigns Exploiting Fear of COVID-19

The Croatian Interior Ministry reported on March 19 that National Computer Emergency Response Team, CERT, stated that phishing campaigns – email scam designed to steal personal information – have begun and that they are trying to exploit the coronavirus epidemic to convince users to run malicious code on their computers. According to the Interior Ministry, the title of one suspect email is "An important COVID-19 update for our community", and the sender is falsely introduced as the WHO (the template of email address is: WHO @ domain). There is also an attachment in the email named "COVID-19.img". The analysis found that by downloading the.img file to a Windows PC, a malicious file called "Chance.exe" that runs the "RegAsm.exe" subprocess will be saved and archived, which is the loader for the Trojan Horse malware infection

Fake News about New Coronavirus-related EU tenders

Fake news stories about coronavirus-related EU tenders and development policy measures are spreading on social networks and on email chain letters. Among others, a project management company has been trying to get new clients with the false information.

Bosnia’s Republika Srpska Imposes Fines for Coronavirus ‘Fake News’

The government of the Republika Srpska issued a decree that forbids causing “panic and disorder” during a state of emergency, Interior Minister Dragan Lukac told a press conference.

“In recent days, we have had various comments on social networks by irresponsible people who create fake news and cause panic and fear among citizens, which can cause various consequences,” Lukac said.

He added that “during an emergency, it is forbidden to publish false news and allegations that cause panic and severely disrupt public order and peace or prevent the implementation of measures by institutions exercising public authority”.

Individuals who are proved to have caused panic and spread false news will be fined between 1,000 and 3,000 Bosnian marks (between 500 and 1,500 euros), and firms between 3,000 and 9,000 marks (between 1,500 and 4,500 euros).

Twitter User Spreads Panic about Coronavirus Crisis

A Twitter user spread panic on the social network by claiming that part of the capital, Skopje, had become the main infected area of the city and had a large number of infected citizens. The claims have not been confirmed by health authorities.

Fake News on Coronavirus Crisis and Food Shortages

One online news portal published fake news about the coronavirus crisis and apparent food shortages. The portal claimed the country was faced a wheat shortage, and that large amounts of wheat were being exported to Kosovo. Authorities later denied the claims.

Coronavirus Patients’ Identities Exposed Online

After the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Montenegro, the infected patients’ identities were revealed in posts on social media, sparking outbursts of hate speech against them.

After Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic announced on Tuesday evening that the country had its first two coronavirus cases, the patients’ identities were published by social media users.

Photos of one of the patients and her family were also posted online.

The ethnicities and religious beliefs of the patients were then targeted with hate-speech comments by some people on social networks.

The Montenegrin Association against AIDS, CAZAS, said that that every patient has the right to privacy and medical confidentiality.

Read more here.

Person Detained after Posting Fake News on Coronavirus

On a messaging platform, a man falsely claimed that a person in a certain village had been infected by the coronavirus and then hospitalized, and that as a result, most of those in contact with the person could be also infected, making the village an epicentre of the disease.

Outcome: Police detained the man who faces criminal charges.

Citizen Held by Police for Causing Panic on Facebook

Citizen from Malo Crnice was held by the police on the grounds that he used Facebook to induce panic and disorder. The person published a photo of Serbian soldiers on his Facebook profile and added that the army and police have been deployed in his town, that bread vouchers have been distributed, that no one is paying for goods just by presenting an ID card etc.

Outcome: Citizen detained by police on suspicion of criminal act of causing panic and disorder.

DDoS Attack on Government Website on Coronavirus

The government’s official website on the epidemic was not reachable for a while. According to a government briefing, a DDoS attack on the site caused the temporary problem.

Defence Minister Denounces Fake News on Aerial Disinfection

Romania’s Defence Minister on Facebook denounced the circulation via WhatsApp of a piece of fake news informing the public about a supposed campaign of disinfection to be conducted by army helicopters in Bucharest. The message asked people to stay at home and close their windows and doors during the false disinfection operation, to avoid being harmed by the chemicals being sprayed from the helicopters.

Outcome: The army denied having any such plans and asked Romanians not to believe and distribute such messages.

Government Orders Website’s Closure for False Coronavirus Stories

The Romanian authorities ordered the closure of online newspaper stiridemoment.ro after it published several false stories in the context of the coronavirus crisis, in which it erroneously reported the closure of various supermarket chains and the existence of a government plan to bring back home Romanian emigrants from foreign countries.

Outcome: The website is not functioning anymore, although the government has not confirmed it shut the site down.

Leaked ‘Zagreb Shutdown’ Document Panics Locals

On March 15, Croatian media published a leaked document signed by the head of Zagreb’s Emergency Management Office, Pavle Kalinic, urging city authorities to shut down cafes and restaurants, gyms and sports facilities in the capital and limit the operations of shops due to the coronavirus outbreak. The National Civil Protection Headquarters has not, so far, announced any such measures, and clarified that it was important to maintain a balance between “the epidemiological situation and the severity and breadth of the measures”. Kalinic said that the document was authentic but that it leaked illegally. It was shared on social networks and via WhatsApp and caused panic among Zagreb residents who thought the measures had come into force.

Online Lessons in Croatia Hampered by Hacker Attack

CARNET, the Croatian state institution for information and communication technology in schools, reported that there have been problems with online classes for upper grades on the morning of March 15 due to a DDOS attack. Starting from March 15, all schools were closed in Croatia due to the coronavirus outbreak so pupils began taking online lesions. According to CARNET, the attack was reported to the relevant department of the Interior Ministry and “all information was provided to enable it to actively participate in the investigation”. CARNET also said its experts were doing their best to fix the problems. Police said a criminal investigation was underway to identify the perpetrators.

Party Leader Spreads Disinformation about COVID-19 on YouTube

Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of the far-right Mi Hazank party, launched a video series on YouTube, in which he spreads disinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak that he has taken from Russian propaganda. Videos include statement such as the coronavirus was made and spread by the World Health Organization and European Union. Earlier Facebook has banned Toroczkai’s site because of similar content.

Man Detained over Claims about ‘Closure’ of Budapest

Fake news started to spread on social media that the capital, Budapest, would soon be closed due to the coronavirus epidemic. The government has repeatedly denied having such plans.

Outcome: The anti-cybercrime unit of the police identified the YouTuber, who first made the false statement about the closure of the capital. Police detained him and he faces criminal charges of threatening public danger.

North Macedonia’s President said Authorities Prevented Attempts to Spread False News

Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said that the authorities detected and prevented several organised attempts at spreading false news regarding the coronavirus situation in the country, aimed at causing panic among the public.

Unverified “Tips” on Coronavirus Spread on Facebook

Many “helpful” tips about how to prevent and cure the coronavirus have spread on Facebook, often referencing Taiwanese and Japanese doctors.

False Information about Quarantine in Croatian Capital

Media reported that an audio recording appeared on social media saying that in 48 hours it would be announced that Zagreb was under quarantine, and that the real data on the number of coronavirus-infected people was being hidden. Government spokesman Marko Milic said the information was false and urged people not to believe inaccurate and malicious reports.

Dangerous Advice from a Non-existing Doctor Spread in the Media

Several media outlets in Serbia, including nova.rs portal, Vecernje novosti, Tanjug, published unverified information about alleged advice and findings of a microbiologist from Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID19 outbreak in China. The article has since been removed from the nova.rs website.

Article Commends Homeopathy Against Coronavirus

The official website of Acsa, a village in Pest County, published an article under the title “General Practitioner’s tip” that advised use of homeopathic remedies against the coronavirus. The author is in fact a general practitioner who has confirmed that he was the author.

Numerous Instances of Disinformation in Online and Social Media

There is a notable trend of spreading numerous misleading, false or unverified information about the coronavirus pandemic, both on news portals and social media in Serbia. Examples include stories on how there is a first patient in Serbia cured from coronavirus in Novi Sad, that there are cases of infected students in a Novi Sad medical high school, about the influence of 5G networks on the pandemic and so on.

Fake News Regarding a Coronavirus-infected Person and a Political Party

A media website claimed that a patient infected with the coronavirus was present at a wedding of a senior party official from North Macedonia’s ruling SDSM party. The SDSM’s general secretary Ljupcho Nikolovski, whose wedding it was, later denied the claim that the patient was there.

Fake News that Migrant Brought Coronavirus to Italy

Pro-government news sites have published the already debunked fake news that the coronavirus in Italy was spread by a Pakistani migrant who refused to self-quarantine.

Online Media Readers Misinformed about Coronavirus Vaccine

Online media outlet IstraIN published an article claiming that a vaccine against the coronavirus was created before the outbreak of the disease. The author said it is possible that someone planned it. According to the WHO, there is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus.

 

Continuing Online Circulation of False News About COVID-19

Various false news reports and other false information about the coronavirus pandemic have been circulating through social networks and online platforms such as WhatsApp and YouTube, including content that blames the expansion of 5G technology for the COVID-19 outbreak or blames multinational companies or foreign governments for the pandemic.

Fake News Attributed to TV Channel Makes Rounds

The news TV channel Digi24 denounced a fake caption supposedly extracted from their website that falsely identified a second case of coronavirus in Romania.

Dangerous ‘Tips’ on Coronavirus Spread on Facebook

A chain letter titled “An Italian doctor about the coronavirus – Important information” has been circulating on Facebook. It contains “tips” about the virus that have no real basis or could even be dangerous for those who take the letter seriously. An edited version of the letter was sent to pharmacies in the capital by the Budapest branch of the Hungarian Chamber of Pharmacists. Several medical organisations received the letter as well. It could also be downloaded from the chamber’s website. László Hetényi, president of the Chamber in Budapest, said he wrote the letter.

More Fake Reports About Coronavirus Circulated

Several messages of unknown origin and having in common exaggerated reports on the levels of lethality and contagion of the coronavirus are circulating among users of social networks and WhatsApp in Romania.

Ministry Orders Removal of Online Fake News

The Ministry of the Interior on March 25 ordered the “removal at source” of an online news article published by the website bpnews.ro that claimed the coronavirus can be killed using a medical drug called Polidin. Before taking this decision, the authorities contacted the website owner, who refused to remove the content.

Spreading False Information on Deaths from Coronavirus in Serbia via an Audio Message

An unidentified person spread false information about the deaths from coronavirus in Serbia via an audio message. A criminal complaint was filed and the Police High-Tech Crime Unit is working to identify a person because of suspicion of a crime of spreading panic and riots.

Outcome: Criminal complaint filed, police working on identifying the person due to the suspicion that the criminal act of causing panic and riots was committed.

False News and Disinformation about Coronavirus

Health Minister Venko Filipche said there had been fake news and disinformation about the first coronavirus case in North Macedonia this week. Filipche denied that any cases had yet occurred in the country, calling for responsibility and warning against spreading panic when it comes to coronavirus information.

WhatsApp user Misinforms about Coronavirus

Before the official confirmation of the first cases of the coronavirus in Croatia, a message was spread through the WhatsApp mobile app by a Split citizen who claimed that the first case in the city had already been confirmed. In fact, the first case was confirmed in Zagreb, not Split, on February 25.

Photo Model Posts Racist Message on Instagram

Sylvi Bódy, a well-known photo model, posted a message on Instagram about the coronavirus, calling for the closure of the Hungarian border and referring to Chinese people with the derogatory term “ferdeszemű” [“slanted eyes”]. “I suppose, following the example of Russia, Hungary has already closed the border to Chinese tourists ?! At least I really hope so,” she wrote. “If Hungary succeeded in locking out migrants, then I hope the government is wise enough to take appropriate precautions. Little slant-eyed Chinese people are cute and all, but there are just enough of them living in our country, so sorry but thanks, we don’t want more of them.

Outcome: Body apologised and deleted her original post.

Portal Spreads Lies About Danger of Chinese Tourists

After broke news of the coronavirus epidemic in China, and related information about the arrival of a group of Chinese tourists in Bosnia, the Izdvojeno.ba portal published an article filled with lies and misinformation on the virus itself and its way of spreading, while demanding a ban on the entry of Chinese tourists.

The article created unjustified fears and veered into subjective conclusion making, claiming the Chinese tourists had come to Bosnia because of an “undue display of hospitality”, while insisting that “we must ban them from staying in our country.” There are no indications that any of the tourists had the virus.

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