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Controversial Surveillance Law Clears First Hurdle

The sweeping amendments on wiretapping to the Criminal Procedure Code, tabled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, cleared the first hurdle at the Parliament on April 26.

The bill, endorsed by 74 ruling party MPs and 3 opposition lawmakers of the GD-aligned European Socialists party, extends the maximum possible surveillance period from six months to nine and makes it possible to carry out covert investigative activities in connection with 27 more offenses, among others.

Also, the proposed legislation lists off 100 crimes that could warrant indefinite wiretapping as long as “legal grounds” allow for it. These offenses range from genocide and crime against humanity to unlawful interference with the performance of a religious rite and unlawful hoisting of the Georgian flag on a ship.

The list also includes crimes such as exceeding official powers, assault on public political officialsand conspiracy or rebellion intended to change the constitutional order of Georgia through violence.

Also, for the said 100 offenses, the bill would allow investigators to indefinitely postpone notifying the suspect that they had been under surveillance.

Existing legislation had obliged the prosecution to issue the notice no later than 12 months after carrying out the covert investigative activities, with the possibility to postpone the notification by another year if the Court permits.

Meanwhile, the list of 27 offenses that could now allow for surveillance include crimes such as disclosure of state secrets, desecration of the state coat of arms and the national flag, false notification of terrorism, public incitement to violence, and racial discrimination, among others.

Watchdogs concerned

In a statement on April 21, eleven local watchdogs — including Transparency International Georgia, the Social justice Center, and Open Society Georgian Foundation —  said if adopted the legislation would “considerably worsen the standard of protection of human rights” and “substantively deteriorate the standard of protection of private life.”

The CSOs stressed that the legislative proposal is “especially problematic” following the reports of mass surveillance by the State Security Service of Georgia on the clergymen, journalists, diplomats, and politicians, which “are yet to be investigated.”

By tabling the changes, the ruling Georgian Dream party is giving more power to law enforcement bodies, increasing the “risks of arbitrariness and unfounded interference in private life.”

The recent years have demonstrated wiretapping is also “often used to exert influence on political or social processes, which further exacerbates the problem of instrumentalization of the security system,” the eleven CSOs asserted.

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