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Parliament Overrides Veto on Govt-Backed Surveillance Bill
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 30 Nov.'14 / 19:27

The Parliament by 82 to 13, or six votes more than the necessary 76, overrode on November 30 President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s veto on government-backed bill on surveillance regulation, which allows Interior Ministry to retain its direct access to telecom operators’ networks.

President’s main argument behind his decision to veto the bill, which allows the Interior Ministry to own and operate so called ‘black box’ spying devices in telecom operators’ networks, was that it lacked “right balance” between privacy rights and security tipping it in favor of the latter.

The president instead offered to the parliament his alternative bill, which, according to President Margvelashvili’s parliamentary secretary, “excludes” unlawful interception of communications by the law enforcement agencies without authorization, including through technical, electronic means, by court.

But, as it was expected, president-proposed alternative bill was voted down.

The president’s bill was criticized, for different reasons, both by those lawmakers who supported government-backed bill and also by many of those who were against of government’s bill.

The government-backed bill was passed on November 28; the bill was opposed by lawmakers from Republican Party, which is part of the GD ruling coalition, as well as by MPs from Free Democrats, party which quit GD earlier this month, and UNM parliamentary minority group.
 
Those who opposed the government-backed bill, were criticizing president’s bill arguing that it was not sufficiently clear about depriving Interior Ministry of its control of so called ‘black box’ spying devices installed in telecom operators’ networks, which gives security agencies capability to carry out surveillance even without court’s authorization or knowledge of any monitoring agency.

But president’s parliamentary secretary, Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze, argued during the discussions on Sunday that the president’s bill was offering a clear general principle that no interception could be carried out without court’s authorization, including through electronic means, but it was then up to lawmakers to define precise scheme before March 1, 2015 how to arrange this system based on this principle.
 
The only group, which voted for president’s bill was, Free Democrats (FD), party led by ex-defense minister Irakli Alasania. Although having objections, FD MPs said that the president’s bill was giving a chance to the Parliament to return back to discussion of the key issue – depriving the Interior Ministry direct access to telecom operators’ networks, as it was setting March 1, 2015 as a deadline for lawmakers to elaborate a precise scheme.

MPs from the Republican Party, part of the GD ruling coalition, were against of the president’s bill citing several reasons – they were against of putting court in charge of giving go-ahead through electronic means to surveillance and they were also critical about, what they said was president’s failure to clearly define in his bill a provision of depriving the Interior Ministry of direct access to telecom operators’ networks. But MPs from Republican Party also voted against overriding presidential veto, reiterating that government-backed bill was unacceptable for them.

UNM parliamentary minority group also refused to support either president’s bill or overriding the veto and did not participate in the vote.

Leader of GD parliamentary majority group, MP Davit Saganelidze, used his speech during the discussions mainly for criticizing President Giorgi Margvelashvili for vetoing government-backed bill. “Veto is not a hoe to wield it whenever you want,” he said.

President, although disagreeing with government-backed bill, signed it into law shortly after his veto was overridden by the parliament. In case of refusal to sign it, entry into force of regulation could have been dragged out, missing December 1 deadline.

It was second time when President Margvelashvili used his veto power.

Previously he vetoed a bill, which was extending deadline for addressing the issue of Interior Ministry’s direct access to telecom operators’ networks for four months and instead offered the Parliament to set tighter deadline till December 1. At the time the Parliament had to accept president’s proposal.

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