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Protesting majority-proposed surveillance draft

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, February 2
Various Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) have left a special group in Parliament working on changes to surveillance, since the Constitutional Court of Georgia opposed the current system and highlighted that law enforcement bodies must not have direct access to wiretapping.

Head of Transparency International Georgia Eka Gigauri stated that the Georgian Dream ruling team was trying to go against the court verdict and indirectly offer a model that leaves surveillance jurisdiction with the State Security Service.

Gigauri voiced the position of other influential NGOs and stated the precedent would create a threat to court rulings; she claimed that from now on, such court rulings could be ignored by Parliament or other political actors.

The Georgian Dream majority offered a new entity under the State Security Service to carry out surveillance after the Constitutional Court of Georgia stated last year that the existing model of surveillance with the Interior Ministry and Personal Data Protection Inspector had to be changed.

The majority suggested a concept which envisaged the establishment of a legal entity of Public Law (LEPL) under the supervision of the State Security Agency (SSA), which would have the right to carry out surveillance.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili said that relevant legislation should be adopted that will provide protection for both: people’s rights and state security interests.

“The so-called wiretapping issue always drew the President’s attention. As you know, the bill was vetoed by Giorgi Margvelashvili as it was not shared, and it resulted in a bad and painful experience. The President thinks we should adopt the relevant legislation at list this time which will provide firm protection of people’s rights and state security interests,” the President’s Press Speaker said.

Member of the opposition Movement for Freedom-European Georgia, Elene Khoshtaria, says the ruling team wants surveillance jurisdiction firmly under law enforcement structures so to use against their political opponents.

However, majority leader Archil Talakvadze claims that a new, independent agency will be established to carry out secret wiretapping and will be accountable only before Parliament and the President.

After the Georgian Dream Government defeated the nine-year rule of the United National Movement in 2012, thousands of video and audio files were seized, taped illegally under the United National Movement leadership to blackmail people.

Most of the footage was publicly destroyed, but many files were kept in order to help future investigations.

However, under the current Georgian Dream authorities, some personal videos also appeared on the Internet.

Parliament passed amendments in 2014 that gave surveillance powers to the Interior Ministry and the Personal Data Protection Inspector, with the opposition and NGOs opposing the move, due to the threat of illegal surveillance.

The President also vetoed the amendments, but the veto was overridden by Parliament.

The Constitutional Court ruled on April 14 2016 that the legislation allowing the police to have direct, unrestricted access to telecom operators’ networks to monitor communications was unconstitutional.

The court set March 31 2017 as the deadline for implementing the court’s decision and replacing the existing surveillance regulations.