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Disputes become heated on eavesdropping

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, October 31
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili is strongly against granting a key for eavesdropping to mobile operators and the court. The PM made a statement in response to the protest of NGOs that support depriving the Ministry of Interior Affairs of the key and handing it to mobile operators and the court. NGOs also oppose the postponement of legal changes concerning eavesdropping until April 2015.

The key of eavesdropping is solely controlled by the MIA currently. It should be stressed that eavesdropping was widely used by the previous government and thousands of recordings obtained illegally, which were used for blackmailing of people, were destroyed by the new government. However, the lever is still in the hands of the ministry. For addressing the issue, a parliament commission composed of lawmakers and NGOs has been working on the problem and a final solution over the case should be made before November 1. However, the Legal Committee of Parliament has initiated postponing the process until April, 2015. NGOs claim that the initiative was pushed forward without any agreement with the working group. NGOs also claim that the reason cited by the commission was far from reality.

Initially two versions were discussed: giving the key to mobile operators or leave it at the disposal of the ministry under court supervision. However, several weeks ago, foreign analysts recommended a two-key system, where the owners of the key are dependent on each other. But the suggestion caused a new problem: Who would take the key? The ministry or mobile operators? The ministry and the court? The mobile operators and the court? Head of Transparency International Georgia, Eka Gigauri claims that the key should be given to mobile operators and the court, as there is the risk that the ministry will use it illegally again.

However, the PM stated that all the mobiles operators in Georgia are of foreign origin and giving the key to them would be a risk to state security. He added that in those countries, where mobile operators possess the key, security norms are protected at a high level, while Georgia lacks the opportunity. Gharibashvili stressed that even the mobile operators are against this option. When it came to the court, Gharibashvili stated that even such cases when law-enforces have very strong evidence to demand the court order, the court refrains from giving permission.

Responding to the statement, Gigauri stressed that the PM recognized that MIA is still illegally eavesdropping. “It is obvious that the PM has already made a decision over the key and it is unclear why they want to lengthen the process more…” Gigauri said.

Head of the Legal Committee of Parliament Vakhtang Khmaladze informed that a conference will be held in December through the patronage of EU and PACE that will discuss the issues related to the protection of personal information. “The postponing of the process is significant, as we will be able to be aware of the conclusions and the most recent approaches of the topic,” Khmaladze said.

In the case if parliament supports the delay, NGOs are going to write a letter to the president and ask him to veto the initiative over the postponement. The president’s administration states that the president will make its decision based on state security and public demand. The parliamentary opposition supports the initiative pushed forward by the NGOs on giving the key to mobile operators and the court.