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Parliament approves surveillance draft law

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, February 27
The Parliament of Georgia approved the draft law on surveillance with its second reading, which means that no genuine amendments are expected to be reflected within the package of changes.

The draft law put forward by the ruling team is opposed by the opposition as it envisages the creation of a legal entity of Public Law (LEPL) under Georgia’s State Security Service that will be eligible to carry out secret surveillance.

The draft law, which will be finally approved by Parliament in its third reading in the coming days, came after the Constitutional Court of Georgia dismissed the previous model of surveillance, with the Interior Ministry and Data Protection agency having access to wiretapping, and stressed that law enforcers must have a direct access to the process due to the conflict of interests.

The current model, like the previous variant, is opposed by the opposition which states the so-called key for surveillance still remains in the hand of the State Security Service.

The opposition proposed the creation of a separate, independent agency with the key for surveillance under the supervision of Parliament.

However, the suggestion was turned down when voted on in Parliament.

The draft law reads that the LEPL, entitled as Georgia’s Operative-Technical agency, would be created under the country’s State Security Service, and the head of the agency would be selected by a special commission composed of seven people: the head of Georgia’s State Security Service, deputy head of Georgia’s Supreme Court, the head of Parliament’s Legal Committee, the head of Parliament’s Defence and Security Committee, the head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the Public Defender and a Government representative.

The agency head would appoint his/her deputies, and the agency preamble would be confirmed by the Prime Minister.

The draft law introduces the position and a new role of the Supervisor Judge from the Supreme Court who will allow the carrying out of surveillance and will also monitor the enforcement process.

The direct control on the law enforcement activities, i.e on surveillance, would be carried out by the Personal Data Protection inspection via a special electronic system. The inspection will specify how legal the surveillance process is and if not it will be able to suspend the enforcement.

Parliament, through its parliamentary control mechanism, will also control the activities of the new agency, and the agency will also be held accountable to the Prime Minister with annual statistical data and a report.

The agency will be eligible to copy the telephone communication data of a target individual for no longer than 12 months, and of an internet communication for no longer than six months. The period can be lengthened for three months.

The Georgian Dream majority claims the draft law meets the demand of the Constitutional Court, and stresses that the package excludes the possibility of any illegal surveillance taking place.

Parliamentary opposition parties, the United National Movement and the European Georgia, state the draft law still gives the key for surveillance to law enforcers.

European Georgia boycotted the draft’s discussion process.

The opposition parties do not exclude the draft law after its approval will once again appear in the Constitutional Court.

After the address of the 'It Affects You' movement by NGOs, 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 decision and replacing the existing surveillance regulations with new ones.