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Majority’s bill on surveillance under criticism

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, February 13
Parliamentary opposition parties, the United National Movement (UNM), the Movement for Freedom-European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, disapprove of the ruling Georgian Dream party's bill on covert investigative actions. This bill envisages the creation of a new entity under the State Security Service to carry out surveillance. Constitutional Court of Georgia stated last year that the existing model of surveillance with the Interior Ministry and Personal Data Protection Inspector as key players had to be changed.

The new legal entity of Public Law (LEPL) will be under the supervision of the State Security Service (SSS); however, the agency will be accountable before the Prime Minister and will submit a generalized report of its activities annually to PM.

Along with the Agency, the 'key' to surveillance will be in hands of the Personal Data Protection Inspector, and to one judge of the Supreme Court.

The parliamentary minority criticized the ruling party, and claims the new model is even worse than the previous variant.

Otar Khakhidze, a member of the Movement for Freedom-European Georgia, said the Constitutional Court's decision says that the covert investigative actions must not be in hands of the State Security Service or any similar state institution.

“You proposed a bill, according to which the head of the LEPL will be selected by the head of the SSS, its deputy will be appointed by the head of the SSs, the head of the commission is automatically the head of the SSS, this legal entity of public law is in the State Security Service and you tell us that it will be an independent body,” Kakhidze told the authors of the bill during the first hearing at the parliament.

The UNM opposition also says the bill is not acceptable for them.

“The recommendations of the Constitutional Court and various NGOs were to create an independent agency. It should not be dependent on the SSS. The new bill does not offer us anything new,” member of the UNM Salome Samadashvili said.

The Public Defender of Georgia, Ucha Nanuashvili, also assessed the bill negatively. He believes that although the new agency will have some elements of independence due to its organizational-legal form, these scarce elements may turn into a formality under the strong control of the State Security Service. Almost nothing might be changed in the institutional model of implementation of covert investigative actions.

“According to the Public Defender's opinion, taking into view the difficult experience of the so-called secret wiretapping in the past, the Parliament of Georgia has an important role and responsibility to develop a model that would provide protection from unjustified interference with private life and help restoration of public confidence in the process,” the statement of the Ombudsman reads.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) call on the ruling party to create an independent agency which does not carry out investigative procedures and does not have any professional interest in surveillance.

“The authors of the bill are not solving the existing problem. On the contrary, they are increasing the powers of the surveillance agency,” Executive Director of the NGO Transparency International Georgia, Eka Gigauri, stated.

The majority says the new bill is in line with the verdict of the Constitutional Court.

The Head of the Legal Committee, Eka Beselia, a co-author of the bill, claims that the new agency will have maximum independence and will be dependent on strictly defined external control.

“If I were in the civil sector, I might have had a similar position as the NGOs over covert wiretapping, but the authorities have more responsibility for the security of the country and cannot adopt a romantic law,” she said.

The surveillance issue became a hot topic prior to the October Parliamentary Elections in 2012, when several videos were leaked onto the Internet showing torture and inhuman treatment in prisons, as well as private conversations of politicians and public figures. Since then much more videos or recordings have been released on internet.

The 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 risk of illegal surveillance.

The President 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 with new ones.

The issue on abusing human rights by the appropriate body is very sensitive and needs thorough and accurate approach.