An ad hoc parliamentary working group was established to draft amendments to Georgia’s surveillance regulations for bringing it in line with the Constitutional Court’s decision that ruled certain provisions of the existing regulations as unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court ruled on April 14, 2016 that the legislation allowing the State Security Agency to copy and store the personal data for two years and to have direct, unrestricted access to telecom operators’ networks to monitor communications is unconstitutional.
The court said then that it understood “the fundamental legislative amendments, as well as institutional and technical application of the new system”, stemming from this verdict, required time and for that reason, set the March 31, 2017 as the deadline for implementing the court decision.
The parliamentary working group, which is led by Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee Chairperson Eka Beselia, includes MPs, representatives of executive and judiciary authorities, as well as the non-governmental organizations, who have been campaigning for the restriction of security agencies’ direct, unfettered access to telecom operators’ networks for almost three years within the “This Affects You” campaign.
The campaign participants have developed their own legislative proposals, in which, among other issues, they insist on transferring the so called “surveillance key” from the State Security Service to an independent agency.
United National Movement claims that the government will not agree on removing the surveillance function from the State Security Service.
The particular model which will replace the existing surveillance regulations will be developed by the parliamentary working group.
“We all agree on one thing that protection of our citizens’ security should be guaranteed and this responsibility of the state should be secured by all relevant instruments, so that [we manage] to avoid disproportionate interference in the privacy – we all agree on observing this balance. We also agree that we may think about additional control mechanisms, I mean the external control besides the personal data protection inspector and the court, which will be kept as an external control tool anyway. We are also thinking about increasing the parliamentary control,” Eka Beselia said on January 9 after a meeting with the representatives of the “This Affects You” campaign.
Beselia, who was the co-author of the regulations, part of which was considered unconstitutional, added that “we cannot afford such an experiment” and “further increase the threats” in Georgia, which “has rather difficult geopolitical location.”
In 2014 the Parliament passed the package of legislative amendments setting tighter rules for the law enforcement agencies to carry out surveillance activities, including through introduction of higher standards of justification required for security agencies to obtain court warrant on surveillance, as well as through increasing authorities of the personal data protection inspector. But the key issue, which is in the legislation since 2010 and which allows security agencies to operate the so called ‘black box’ spy devices in telecommunications service providers’ networks, remained unchanged.
After the Parliament passed the package, President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed it, but the Parliament overrode the veto. The amendments failed to allay the concerns of civil society groups, who claim that until the security service retains direct access to telecom operators’ servers, law enforcement agencies will be able to carry out illegal surveillance bypassing the personal data protection inspector. The Constitutional Court called for amending the disputable provisions based on the lawsuits filed by the Public Defender and the “This Affects You” campaign organizers.