COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Durov rejects Western funds’ offer to buy 5%-10% of Telegram with $30bn valuation
Belarusian government sees $2bn of withdrawals, issues $580mn worth of bonds in 2020
Lukashenko: I am no enemy of the people
One of Russia’s biggest wood product companies, Segezha could be Sistema’s next IPO
The volume of the Russian National Wealth Fund tops $183.93bn as gold overtakes dollar asset for first time
New Ukrainian VC firm QPDigital aims to invest up to $100 million in digital startups
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
FPRI BMB Ukraine: Most Ukrainians are optimistic about 2021 – poll
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Estonian premier quits after Tallinn development scandal
Top Centre Party official suspected of corruption in Tallinn real estate scandal
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
Romanian tech entrepreneurs expand into banking sector
OUTLOOK 2021 Hungary
Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
World Bank expects modest recovery for Europe and Central Asia in 2021
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
Slovakia to invest €1.2bn in digitisation
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Vodafone Albania plans €100mn infrastructure investments after AbCom merger
OUTLOOK 2021 Albania
Kyiv accuses Bosnian President Dodik of lying about icon gifted to Russian foreign minister
Bosnia’s real GDP contracts 6.3% y/y in 3Q20
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING THINK: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
OUTLOOK 2020 Bulgaria
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Zagreb Stock Exchange's Crobex10 index at highest level since March 5
OUTLOOK 2021 Kosovo
Arrera Automobili aims to launch Albania’s first supercar
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Moldova’s PM resigns to prepare the ground for early elections
Socialist lawmakers in Moldova scrap settlement on $1bn bank frauds
Montenegro’s new ruling coalition carves up top state jobs
OUTLOOK 2021 Montenegro
Vast tide of floating waste threatens Balkan hydropower plants
North Macedonia's manufacturing confidence indicator down by 8.5 pp y/y in December
OUTLOOK 2021 North Macedonia
Transparency International warns of high corruption risk in CEE defence sectors
Moldova fears flooding from Ukraine's planned Dniester hydropower plants
Romania’s industrial recovery paused in November
OUTLOOK 2021 Serbia
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Slovenia’s dire COVID-19 situation in 4Q20 caused second economic dip
Slovenia’s Eligma completes €4mn funding round
Turkish opposition leader lawsuit demands one lira from Erdogan, police probe “bald” interior minister posts
Akbank takes over Istanbul's Palladium Atasehir shopping mall
OUTLOOK 2021 Armenia
Armenia’s PM cautions conflict with Azerbaijan “still not settled” after trilateral meeting with Putin
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
Russia, Kazakhstan pushing for oil production increases on the back of coronavirus vaccine-fuelled oil price optimism
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
Georgia’s political kingpin Bidzina Ivanishvili quits politics
Modern-day “Robin Hood” inspires Georgians drowning in debt
Iran’s navy conducts missile drill while analyst argues Trump even capable of nuclear strike in final days
TEHRAN BLOG: Who’s more credible? Johnson backing Trump’s Nobel chances or Iran applauding arrest warrant for US president?
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
OUTLOOK 2021 Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
Turkmenistan: The dammed united
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s Makro positions itself for growth in a more competitive market
Download the pdf version
In the 14th century when the world was ravaged by the Black Death, the port of Venice sent sailors from ships it feared were carrying plague to a nearby island for 40 days — the period was known as a “quarantinario” from the Italian word for forty and gave rise to the word quarantine. Two centuries later, the houses of plague victims in London were marked by blue crosses. Just one (healthy) person from an infected household was allowed out to buy food, and had to carry a white rod.
Those suspected of carrying the 21st century coronavirus (COVID-19) don’t have to use a white stick or blue cross to warn others away. Instead, as the virus spreads around the globe — reaching over 1mn confirmed cases worldwide in early April — methods of keeping people in quarantine and enforcing social distancing have moved on to the digital age. Governments in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere are using the latest technologies to enforce lockdowns and track anyone suspected of having the virus.
Poland, for example, has launched an app named Kwarantanna domowa (Home quarantine) to help police make sure people in quarantine stay at home. Anyone returning from abroad must go into home quarantine for two weeks and is either obliged to respond to police calls or download the app, the digital ministry said. The Kwarantanna domowa app uses a mobile location service and facial recognition, and sends random requests to users to take selfies, to which users must respond in 20 minutes or the app notifies the police.
“You will need to take one or several such photos a day. We will send requests for them 'by surprise'. The idea is exactly the same as for unannounced visits by police officers,” said Minister of Digitisation Marek Zagorski. The ministry included a reminder to users to make sure their phones are charged and to check their SMSs.
Poles breaking quarantine orders face fines of up to PLN30,000 (€6,540). That is almost six times the average gross wage in Poland in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Drones are another tool that have been used in a number of countries to monitor compliance with lockdowns. In the first such move in Croatia, the regional office of the Civil Protection Directorate in the town of Osijek — picked pre-pandemic for an early rollout of 5G services — has set up an aerial surveillance system using drones, state news agency Hina reported.
Russia has only recently reported large numbers of coronavirus cases — though there were a suspiciously large number of people suffering from pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses in Moscow hospitals earlier in the year — but the authorities drew up plans for a widespread outbreak as early as February. These included surveillance and contact tracing for anyone who tested positive, using facial recognition technology and mobile phone data.
In the last few days reports in the Russian media have revealed that an app is in the works to monitor the movements of Moscow citizens who have been placed under a strict lockdown ordered by mayor Sergey Sobyanin on March 29. Moscow residents are now only allowed to leave their residences to buy food and essential medicals, and may walk no further than 100 metres from their homes.
There are now plans to require residents of the Russian capital to register with a municipal website, and log in every time they want to leave their homes to give the reason. They then receive a unique barcode or code by SMS to show to the police if they are stopped. The authorities would also receive access to residents’ mobile geolocation data and financial transactions so their movements can be tracked, according to a summary of the plans from rights watchdog Human Rights Watch.
A beta version of the app was reportedly released via the Google Play store, sparking widespread criticism and questions about its legality and security.
While praising Moscow’s public information campaigns on hand washing and social distancing, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns that measures taken during lockdowns “need to be necessary, proportionate and lawful”.
“Under the proposed online pass system, once authorities have access to personal and geolocation data, and possibly also banking data, they could obtain other information about people’s private lives, associations and activities that do not serve the goal of containing and preventing the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia division, on April 1. “Russia’s troubling record on digital privacy raises significant concerns about potential abuse of the information collected under this programme.”
Debate rages over mobile data use
In fact, the debate as to whether and to what extent governments should be allowed to access mobile phone records, geolocation and other personal data in their quest to enforce lockdowns and curb the spread of the deadly virus is raging in countries around the world.
There are already reports that around 24 countries are already using mobile phone location tracking and 14 countries are using apps for contact tracing or quarantine enforcement.
In just a few examples from the Central and Eastern Europe region, Bulgarian police were authorised to request and obtain data from phone and internet communications to monitor people under compulsory quarantine; Armenian MPs voted to allow their government to collect mobile phone data, including locations and numbers called; and, Estonia’s statistics office has been instructed by the government to use mobile geolocation data from phone companies to study people's movements in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, though the data is not personalised.
In another instance, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has said the authorities are tracking people with Italian telephone numbers, as many of the initial cases in countries across Southeast Europe were among people returning to their home countries to flee Europe’s largest epidemic.
The Czech Republic, which has seen the worst coronavirus outbreak in Central Europe with 3,589 cases as of April 1, is piloting a “smart quarantine system” in South Moravia, inspired by the success of countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan in containing the spread of the virus. The system uses data from mobile phones and payment cards of people who have tested positive to coronavirus to track their movements and find all the people they could potentially have infected. However, unlike in some other countries, consent from participants will be required, and data will only be kept in the system for six hours.
In some countries there has already been a furious backlash. Slovakia adopted a law in March that allows the Public Health Office to use location data from mobile phones to track people ordered to stay in quarantine. After an angry public response the new government — led by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO) that was voted in on an anti-corruption platform — clarified that only limited amounts of data would be collected and the information would be used only in connection with fighting the coronavirus.
In Lithuania, a government bill aimed at allowing state institutions to track the locations of self-isolated and quarantined people has also drawn criticism, with opposition politicians warning of the scope for surveillance of the population with implications for human rights.
A good time to be a dictator
There are already broader concerns that ruling politicians are taking advantage of the need to restrict some freedoms to enforce quarantine and social distancing during the pandemic for their own ends. Rights watchdogs have stressed that any such measures should be limited in time and targeted specifically at preventing infection.
Aside from Russia, strict lockdowns under which citizens are banned from going out except to go to work, buy essential groceries or visit their doctor — and some such as the elderly have been forbidden to go out at all — have been imposed in countries including Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia.
Of particular concern are the sweeping new powers assumed by the Hungarian government after the parliament approved legislation to allow the government to extend the state of emergency without a time limit and granted it power to rule by decree as long as the state of emergency is in place. This led critics to claim that Hungary’s “illiberal democrat” leader Prime Minister Viktor Orban had just created the EU’s first dictatorship.
But the new technologies available today mean that governments have unprecedented scope to monitor their populations’ movements. When employing digital surveillance to fight the COVID-19 pandemic governments should respect human rights, a joint statement from joint statement from HRW, Amnesty International, Access Now, Privacy International and 103 other organisations said on April 2.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented health crisis, but governments must not use the virus as cover to introduce invasive or pervasive digital surveillance,” said Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher at HRW. “Any surveillance measures must have a legal basis, be narrowly tailored to meet a legitimate public health goal, and contain safeguards against abuse.”
here to continue reading this article
and 5 more for free or purchase
12 months full website access including
the bne Magazine for just $250/year.
Register to read the bne monthly magazine for
Password could contain only
and have 8-20 symbols length.
Please complete your registration by confirming your
A confirmation email has been sent to the email
address you provided.
can't be empty.
No user with
this email address.
Access recovery request has expired, or you are using
the wrong recovery token. Please, try again.
Access recover request has expired.
Please, try again.
To continue viewing our content you need to complete
the registration process.
Please look for an email that was sent to
with the subject line
"Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have
instructions on how to complete registration
process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in
case this communication was misdirected in your
If you have any questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorry, but you have used all your free articles fro
this month for bne IntelliNews. Subscribe
to continue reading for only $119 per year.
Your subscription includes:
For the meantime we are also offering a free
digital weekly newspaper to subscribers to
the online package.
Click here for more subscription options,
including to the print version of our
flagship monthly magazine:
Take a trial to our premium daily news
service aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging
For any other enquiries about our
products or corporate discounts please
contact us at
If you no longer wish to receive
Magazine annual print
Website & Archive
Combined package: web
access & magazine print
Take a trial to our premium daily news service
aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging Europe: