TBILISI, DFWatch–A working group within the Georgian parliament on Monday proposed to establish a new agency under the State Security Service to monitor telephone and internet communications, as well as conduct video and audio eavesdropping.
The committee was created in in April, 2016, after the Constitutional Court ruled the existing law and regulations, which gives the Security Service and the Personal Data Protection Inspector access to the surveillance keys, unconstitutional and gave the parliament a deadline until the March 31, 2017 to prepare a new regulation about secret surveillance.
Eka Beselia, the chairwoman of the judicial committee and head of the working group emphasized that even though the new agency will be subordinate to the State Security Service, it will have guarantees to ensure ‘maximal independence.’
Beselia said the parliamentary majority will create a commission with representatives of parliament, Public Defender, the government and the court, which will supervise the agency. The head of new agency will be appointed and dismissed by the prime minister.
“We offer an even better model ensuring balance between human rights and security rights. This new model ensures the protection of these two values,” Beselia said.
Beselia said the ad hoc working group will establish a second ‘key’ which will be held by a Supreme Court judge. This judge will have the right to order the carrying out targeted surveillance for reasons of counter-intelligence work.
Majority leader Archil Talakvadze said on Tuesday that the new agency will be accountable to the parliament and the prime minister as appointment of the head of the agency will have high legitimacy.
“As all public law legal entities, it will be established by the state but we must understand that we have legitimate confidence in the state and expectations of legitimacy. This bill has been developed by the people, taking into account that the state deserves trust and that we need oversight and control mechanisms,” he said.
However, civil organisations and experts believe that the agency created under the State Security Service wouldn’t remove the practice of illegal surveillance from the agenda. Moreover, this is against the ruling by the Constitutional Court.
Non-governmental organizations behind the campaign ‘This Affects You Too’ against illegal wiretapping three years ago criticized the proposed amendments in a statement on January 31. The contentious point in the bill is the system of letting the intelligence service have the keys that technically give them direct access to carry out wiretapping.
In a statement, the non-governmental organisations emphasized that the new amendment “creates risks of unreasonable infringement of human rights.” They said that it’s unclear how the agency created under the State Security Service can maintain its independence.
“The new agency would not be a service provider, but a body vested with absolute power and authority, which the same time will use exclusive right and still have direct access to the personal information of citizens,” the statement reads.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili said Tuesday that he is closely following the developments regarding the amendments. Eka Mishveladze, the president’s press speaker, emphasized that it is very important to elaborate a model which will ensure strict mechanisms of control of the agency.
“The so-called wiretapping issue always drew the president’s attention. As you know, a bill was vetoed by Giorgi Margvelashvili that he did not agree with, and this resulted in a bad and painful experience. On behalf of the president I can say that we should adopt the relevant legislation which will ensure firm protection of people’s rights and state security interests,” Mishveladze said.
Georgia was shocked by the use of illegal eavesdropping when sex tapes were uploaded to the Internet in March 2016, showing several politicians and journalists. Two people have been arrested in the case.