An ad hoc parliamentary working group, established to bring Georgia’s surveillance regulations in line with the Constitutional Court’s decision that ruled certain provisions of the existing regulations as unconstitutional, proposed a new agency under the State Security Service, which will be entitled to monitor telephone and internet communications, as well as conducting the video and audio surveillance.
MP Eka Beselia, who chairs the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee and the ad hoc working group, stated that the amendments were drafted “following lengthy and intensive consultations.”
“The model entails establishing a new agency in the form of a legal entity of public law (LEPL). The new agency will be established under the State Security Service, but [will be equipped] with maximum guarantees of independence. We propose new rules for electing the agency head. [For that,] a commission will be established with participation of representatives of the Parliament, Public Defender’s Office, the Government and the Court. The agency head will be appointed and dismissed by the Prime Minister,” Eka Beselia explained.
Beselia also noted that the new initiative entails a multi-level oversight mechanism by the Parliament, the Court, the Personal Data Protection Inspector and the Prosecutor’s Office, as well as the Audit Service with respect to budgetary expenditures.
“We are introducing one more “surveillance key” and it will be in the hands of the Supreme Court judge, which will conduct a special oversight on counter-intelligence activities,” she added.
“With this proposal, we are offering an even better model, which ensures balance between human rights protection and security. This new model will protect these two values,” Eka Beselia stated.
MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, who chairs the Georgian Dream faction, stated that the new model is “a step ahead” since it serves all three purposes – “compliance with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, security guarantees and human rights protection.”
The non-governmental organizations, who were part of the parliamentary working group and 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, criticized the GDDG-proposed amendments in their statement on January 31.
According to the statement, the proposed model “disregards” the Constitutional Court’s ruling and “creates risks of unreasonable infringement of human rights.” “The campaign participants call on the Parliament to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision,” the statement reads.
Among the “fundamental problems”, the organizations listed the following three: agency independence, agency competency and oversight mechanisms.
With respect to independence, the “This Affects You” campaign participants note that the agency will be established under the State Security Service. Previously, the organizations developed their own legislative proposals, in which, among other issues, they insisted on transferring the so called “surveillance key” from the State Security Service to an independent agency.
In regards to competencies, the “This Affects You” campaign participants point out that the agency “possesses unbalanced competencies,” as it enjoys several exclusive rights and retains the right to have direct access to personal information.
With respect to oversight mechanisms, the organizations note that the proposed model “is not sufficient for effective supervision of a body, as powerful as" the new agency.
Eka Mishveladze, the President’s press speaker, said on January 31 that Giorgi Margvelashvili has paid “particular attention” to the reform of surveillance regulations “at all stages.”
“The head of state considers that we need to adopt a coherent legislation, which, once and for all, will guarantee the protection of individual rights and state interests. The President deems it necessary to work out a model with strong control mechanisms,” Mishveladze stated.
She also added that in establishing such an institution, “the fundamental principle” should be “its accountability and effective control from all three branches of government.”