This week, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan tighten control over internet users; Tajikistan raises tariffs on mobile calls to Russia; two Russian laws named the most damaging to innovation; Kyrgyzstan holds talks with China Telecom; Azerbaijan launches internet-filtering feature.

1. Kazakhstan government plans to force internet users to authenticate themselves on websites with mobile phones if they want to post comments. This is done under the pretext of fighting information war and hate speech. The deputy head of the Communications and Information Technology Committee Mikhail Komissarov shared this information with mass media.

2. Kyrgyzstan’s security services investigated 45 Facebook users for openly criticizing the president Atambayev at the request of the member of Kyrgyz parliament Irina Karamushkina. The official statement of the State Security Committee read that ten users were located abroad which made it impossible to apply any measures to them. However, inside the country, the security services interrogated and made a stark warning to 11 people who published negative posts about the president.

3. Kyrgyztelecom negotiates with China Telecom to buy internet from Russia via Kazakhstan and China. One of the main conditions of the agreement is to receive ‘unfiltered traffic’ as China is known for regular filtering of content. There is also a possibility that Kyrgyzstan may transit internet forward to Uzbekistan.

4. The government ordered mobile phone operators in Tajikistan to raise tariffs for calls to Russia. As of Jan. 20 the cost of outgoing calls to Russia will increase from about 0.69 somoni ($0.7) up to 1.20 somoni ($0.15). Mobile operators noted in their official statements that the cost increase is due to the fact that calls are now rerouted through the Unified Electronic Communication Switching Center, run by state-owned Tojiktelecom, and which, as DR reported before, cost the government $50 million.

DR comments: This is an adverse decision for both mobile phone companies and people. Tajikistan has the lowest average monthly salary among CIS countries, only about $170. An estimated 870,000 Tajik nationals works in Russia as labor migrants.

5. Two Russian laws were listed among the world’s most subversive policies against innovation and high-value technology. According to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, in a global digital competition many countries adopted protectionist and trade-distorting policies to expand domestic tech production, which in a long run damages competitors, consumers, and the entire global innovation system.

In 2016 the worst countries were Russia, Vietnam, China, Turkey, Indonesia, and Germany. ITIF thinks that the following Russian laws were particularly detrimental: 1) forced local data storage requirements and encryption-key disclosure as part of a new telecommunication data law, and 2) new government procurement rules that ban the purchase of foreign software.

6. State-owned Baku Telephone Network Production Association launched a filtering service called ‘Safe internet.’The telecom operator is now able to filter the content and block potentially harmful content like gambling, phishing and pornography sites. Although the notion of ‘Safe internet’ is well-intentioned, it creates an opportunity for restrictions to freedom of speech and information too.