TBILISI, DFWatch–Parliament in Georgia Friday postponed the review of a much-debated bill proposed by civil rights groups aimed at preventing illegal surveillance, a practice still rife in the country.
The review was postponed because parliament was unable to reach a quorum.
Parliament’s vice speaker, Manana Kobakhidze, said the hearing would be held next week at a special session.
However, the most debated part of the proposed bill – who would hold ‘key’ of the spy devices, i.e. ‘black boxes’ – was postponed till November.
Authors of the draft legislation, civil rights activists and one MP of the ruling Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, insist that telecommunications companies should hold the ‘key’, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which comprises security services, ardently opposes it and claims the ‘key’ should be kept by itself.
Although lack of quorum is a persistent problem in Georgia’s parliament, Friday’s vote failure raised questions whether it was done intentionally, as some MPs try to avoid irritating the powerful MIA, which seems to be reluctant to cede its unconditional sway over surveillance.
The proposed package of legislative amendments, which implies changes in five laws including the criminal code and the law about electronic communications, ensures that secret measures are allowed only during investigation of certain categories of crime. Secret surveillance will be allowed to uncover deliberate, severe and particularly severe crimes.
The draft defines the category of persons about whom secret surveillance may be allowed as persons having a direct connection to the crime, or persons who are used by a person in direct communication connection to the crime – uses his technical equipment, or any other ways for communication or is an ally. Shalva Shavgulidze, an MP from the Georgian Dream faction and co-author of the bill, explained that this is a European standard.
Apart from Shavgulidze, two civil activists, Lasha Tughushi and Zviad Koridze, also a legal expert, Lika Sajaia, are co-authors of the bill.
According to the draft, secret surveillance measures can be undertaken if it is ‘absolutely necessary’ to achieve a justified goal. The burden of proof is on law enforcers to show that this is an ‘absolute necessity’ and it must be approved by a judge.
Shavgulidze explains that the draft includes a principle of notification, which means that a person who is a subject of secret surveillance must be notified about it and explained of his right to appeal this decision.
According to Shavgulidze, a person can appeal to the Appeals Court and if the court agrees, the draft envisages that all the information and footage obtained by secret surveillance must be destroyed.
The most important issue is still unresolved: who will have direct access to secret surveillance data, i.e. holding a ‘key’ to the servers (‘black boxes’) embedded in the telecommunication companies’ networks. Currently, the MIA has unilateral access to these servers and is firmly against handing over the ‘key’ to the companies, arguing that this move would actually entitle private enterprises with the mechanism of surveillance that might be used unlawfully.
Shavgulidze said a special commission will work on this issue until November 1.
Lasha Tughushi, co-authors of the bill, says that, as in most EU countries, mobile communications companies should have access to the ‘black boxes’, otherwise the MIA would accumulate too much power that might be used illegally.