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NGOs oppose majority initiative on eavesdropping

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, November 20
After the President’s veto, lawmakers and NGOs will have to agree on a common version of a draft to address illegal surveillance and eavesdropping in the country. However, NGOs and majority lawmakers have different approaches to the issue and it is less likely a common version of the draft will be presented before parliament on November 20. The parliament will have to adopt new regulations regarding the issue within a one-month term.

Extensive material obtained through illegal surveillance and eavesdropping under the previous government were destroyed after the Georgian Dream coalition took office. However, under the previous and current governments, the key that allows for eavesdropping is still in the hands of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. The ministry does not want to concede the lever, claiming that they will no longer use the option illegally. There was an attempt from the majority side to postpone a decision making process over the issue.

However, President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed parliament’s decision to extend the deadline for tackling the security agency’s unrestricted capability of direct access to telecommunications service providers’ networks from November 1 to February 28, 2015.

Currently there are three different initiatives in parliament regarding the issue. One of the initiatives is drafted by NGOs and envisages giving the eavesdropping lever to the court and mobile operators. NGOs believe that the lever should no longer be controlled by the MIA.

Two more initiatives are suggested by lawmakers. MP Vakhtang Khmaladze will soon reveal his initiative that will endorse granting the permission to the Communication Regulatory Committee.

The third initiative is elaborated by the heads of two parliamentary committees: Head of Human Rights Committee Eka Beselia and her Deputy Gedevan Popkhadze and the head of the Security Committee Irakli Sesiashvili. The initiative also reads that there should be a two-key system; one of the keys should remain in the MIA and another should be handed to the Personal Data Protection Inspector. The initiators claim that it is an “optimal version” that is acceptable to the MIA and the majority as well. However, NGOs are against the initiative, as they strongly oppose leaving the key in the ministry. Editor-in Chief of Rezonansi newspaper Lasha Tughushi, who is a member of a working group created in parliament for addressing the problem, states that the version is practically drafted by the ministry.

The working group is composed of NGOs and lawmakers should discuss the initiatives and find a consensus among the suggested versions. Ambassador of the United States to Georgia Richard Norland states that each country addresses the surveillance though its own approaches, as there is no single unique solution. He admits that the most important is who will control the legality of the process and not who owns the key.