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Georgian activists and president to appeal new surveillance law

7 April 2017
(Mari Nikuradze/Archive)

Approximately 300 activists are planning to appeal a controversial newly-adopted surveillance law to Georgia’s highest court, the Constitutional Court. President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced on 7 April his plans to address the court in support of the activists, while speaking to the country from Parliament. He said that he shares the concerns of civil society organisations over the new law.

Georgia’s parliament overrode President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s veto of the controversial surveillance bill on 22 March. The bill has faced criticism for not making core changes to the previous surveillance legislation, which gives state security agencies easy access to citizens’ personal information.

According to the new bill, a legal entity of public law — the Operative-Technical Agency (OTA) — will be created in the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG). The OTA will control access to hidden surveillance of communications service operators, computer networks, physical surveillance via audio/video recording, photography, and the use of electronic tracking devices. It will also be able to install clandestine applications on suspects’ PCs, and control postal and telegraphic transfers. The OTA will report directly to the Prime Minister.

The changes have been met with scepticism from opposition parties and civil society. Leading civil rights groups had tried to make changes to the bill, but their view of the law and understanding of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, was opposed by the government. Parliament’s reluctance to give up their approach led rights groups to walk out of the parliamentary working group on the bill in early February.

As an alternative, rights groups had suggested a new, completely independent, and separate agency, accountable to parliament, the Personal Data Protection Inspector, and the courts. According to the Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, a civil rights group who worked on the bill in the early stages of its development, a similar body was originally suggested in the decision of the Constitutional Court itself. However, parliament rejected the initiative.

[Read: Georgia’s perpetual system of illegal surveillance]