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NGOs launch campaign against illegal eavesdropping and surveillance

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, March 7
NGOs are launching the campaign It Concerns You once again. After undertaking moves in terms of the election system in 2013, the current campaign aims at combating illegal eavesdropping and surveillance.

The organizers of the campaign demand creating a legal base against the action and systemic guarantees. According to them, the situation has not changed after the change of the government and the coalition leadership still owns a mechanism to eavesdrop on 21,000 people simultaneously.

Under the leadership of the previous government, special black boxes were installed at the headquarters of the mobile operators that enabled the Interior Minister of Georgia to eavesdrop on thousands of people. After the Georgian Dream coalition came to power, thousands of such illegal recordings and videos were destroyed. However, the black boxes still remain at the offices and the lever is still in hands of the MIA.

Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili and the cabinet members guaranteed that they will not use them if it is not permitted by the court based on reasonable doubt of a crime. But, the organizers of the movement emphasize the issue should not depend on the government’s “goodwill” and the law should regulate it.

The head of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Keti Khutsishvili, stressed that there should be high standards of investigation established in the country, and willful usage of citizens’ personal information from the law-enforcers side should be excluded.

Head of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Kakha Kozhoridze, told The Messenger that eavesdropping can be used by law-enforcement when it concerns especially serious crimes and then only when it is permitted by court.

“I think that the major reason why the MIA does not want to concede the lever is that it is easier to investigate crime through such methods,” Kozhoridze said.

Lawyer Vakhushti Menabde told The Messenger that formation of a healthy system does not require much, including financial background. “Changing the system needs a legal base first of all. The apparatus used for eavesdropping is quite expensive, I doubt reforming the system would cost more,” Menabde said.

Zviad Devdariani, chief of the Civil Development Agency (CiDa) said that the campaign is not targeted at any politician. “In general, the movement is targeted against, systemic shortcomings.”

Lasha Tughushi, Editor-in-Chief of Rezonansi newspaper, said that democracy is a permanent fight, especially when the new Government had not carried out changes in legislation in terms of illegal eavesdropping and surveillance, and when the same individuals were working in law-enforcement bodies.

Eka Gigauri, the head of Transparency International Georgia, said that the MIA is the main opponent of the changes, accusing the NGOs as if the Non-Government Organizations were wishing for the public to have less-protection.

“Only strict punishment for illegal eavesdropping will not solve the problem, systemic changes are required,” Gigauri stated.

The NGOs appealed to the public to be active in this regard, and constant pressure on the government will cause positive outcomes.

Through the recent decision of the Government changes were brought in the criminal code. If someone uses such recordings or make them public, they will be imprisoned for 2-7 years.

The Minister of Interior Affairs, Aleksandre Tchikaidze, stated that the methods are only used in legal frames.

“I ensure you that there is no illegal surveillance or eavesdropping currently as there was under the United National Movement Government,” Tchikaidze said.