Up to 110 CDs containing total of 144 files with over 181 hours of secret video recordings of private lives of citizens, obtained over the past several years through illegal surveillance, were destroyed on September 5.
CDs were destroyed by putting them into a shredding machine in presence of media and members of a commission, which was set up for the purpose of overseeing handling of secret recordings stored in the Interior Ministry.
Archive, destroyed on September 5, represented secret recordings of private life situations, mainly of sexual nature, containing, among others, gay sex and out-of-marriage sex scenes, which were secretly filmed in hotel rooms and other locations between 2007 and July 2012, purportedly with a purpose to use them for possible blackmailing, according to commission members. Politicians, and not only those who were in the opposition at the time, as well as media and civil society representatives, were the targets, according to some members of the commission.
The process of destroying these recordings was carried out mainly in line with recommendations outlined in late July by Thomas Hammarberg, who was appointed by the European Commission as the EU’s Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia in February.
The process was overseen by a commission, which included: Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili; Inspector for Protection of Personal Data Tamar Kaldani; Interior Minister Garibashvili; Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani; a judge from the Tbilisi Court of Appeals Merab Gabinashvili; chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili; as well as civil society representatives Eka Gigauri, executive director of Transparency International Georgia; editor-in-chief of Rezonansi newspaper Lasha Tugushi; head of Research Center for Elections and Political Technologies Kakhi Kakhishvili.
Before the secret recordings were destroyed, a working group of the commission was established through a government decree on September 2; the group was made up of following members: Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili; Inspector for Protection of Personal Data Tamar Kaldani; Kakhi Kakhishvili of the Research Center for Elections and Political Technologies; head of the Interior Ministry’s Operative-Technical Department Avtandil Tabunidze, his deputy Koba Kobidze and an official from the same department Davit Gabekhadze.
The Interior Ministry said that on September 3 the working group members reviewed three discs, randomly selected from 110; immediately before these materials were reviewed by the group members, they were edited in a way to make it impossible to identify persons shown on these videos, the Interior Ministry said and added that the review was carried out in order to verify that such recordings did in fact exist. It also said that a protocol was of the review was drawn up and those three discs destroyed after the review. “The rest of the discs were put back into containers, sealed and prepared for being publicly destroyed,” the Interior Ministry said.
Recordings, destroyed on September 5, were part of a larger archive involving about 26,000 files; these remaining files, according to commission members, involve secret recordings of meetings and conversations of politicians, journalists and civil society activists, as well as videos showing torture of detainees.
Interior Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who chairs the commission, said that “a strict assessment of practice of illegal surveillance that was underway for many years should be made” by the commission. “After that launch of investigation will be required,” Garibashvili said.
He also said that “there is a high probability that representatives of previous authorities” may be in possession of copies of those recordings, which were destroyed on September 5. He said that the government was deliberating amending relevant laws to make punishment for infringing privacy rights stricter.
In late July the Parliament passed an amnesty bill exempting from criminal liabilities both those who were involved in illegal surveillance and gathering of secret recordings of private lives of citizens and those who will voluntarily hand over such recordings to the authorities within three months after enforcement of this amnesty. The amnesty went into force on August 20.
One member of the commission, Kakhi Kakhishvili, was against of destroying recordings of the private life situations, arguing that it would harm investigation and possible legal proceedings against those who were behind gathering of these secret recordings.