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Presidential veto stands

By Messenger Staff
Monday, November 3
Georgia has come up with a political surprise. President Giorgi Margvelashvili, whose performance is not much appreciated by the Georgian Dream and is mostly considered to be a politically “symbolic” figure, used his right to veto the draft law on eavesdropping and surveillance, adopted by the parliament majority. Georgian MPs did not even try to overcome the veto and agreed with the president’s position. President Margvelashvili expressed his gratitude to the parliament, labeling the decision as yet another victory of Georgia on the way to its democratization.

The eavesdropping was the practice exercised by the previous United National Movement government led by Mikheil Saakashvili. The eavesdropping was used against political opponents, but eventually it had received such a state under the UNM, that almost the entire population of the country was under the fear of having bugged phones.

This reality was one of the arguments which the then opposition Georgian Dream used in its fight against the UNM. Before coming to power, the Georgian Dream had promised to eliminate this practice. However, after the coalition came to power, it did not receive the appropriate law to forbid secret surveillance and eavesdropping. It looks like the temptation to listen secretly to the opponents as well as general population could give much advantage to the appropriate bodies to practice this approach.

On October 30, Georgian Parliament adopted the decision to receive new regulations on this matter by February 2015, but this decision was challenged by the president by veto. Margvelashvili suggested that the parliament receive the final law on a regulation to tackle security agencies’ capability of unrestricted direct access to telecom operators’ servers until December the 1st.

The major topic causing controversies over the law is who or which institution should be authorized to practice eavesdropping, of course with the approval of the court.

Parliamentary opposition members welcomed the president’s decision to use his veto power. According to the opposition, the parliamentary majority took the step because it had no chance to collect the 76 votes mandatory to adopt the law. It looks like even among the ruling power members there was no unity over the subject.

Although, the leader of the parliamentary majority Davit Saganelidze stated that the Georgian dream had no problems to overcome the veto, it did not do so not to complicate the situation.

The new law on eavesdropping should be adopted before December 1st, and it should also include specification of the date when the law comes into force. The major issue is who would be exercising the right to eavesdrop. There are several options. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as PM Irakli Gharibashvili believe the interior ministry should have this responsibility. Non-governmental organizations suggest to set up a so called “two-key system”, which means that one ‘key’ will be held by telecom operators themselves and another one by the courts. If the parliament approves the two-key system, it has to also consider that all three mobile operators in the country are foreign-owned companies.

The new law will come into force in 2016.