A group of civil society organizations criticized PM Irakli Garibashvili for using “aggressive tone”, as well as “slanderous” and “inappropriate” remarks in reference to those non-governmental organizations, which are campaigning for reining in security agencies’ unfettered direct access to telecom operators’ networks.
Commenting on various proposals currently debated on how to tackle key issue of surveillance regulation, PM Garibashvili slammed on November 20 those pushing for a proposal envisaging depriving the Interior Ministry of its direct access to telecom operators’ networks.
“I want to put it bluntly – their main goal is to paralyze the Interior Ministry; they are fighting against the state institutions,” PM Garibashvili said.
Addressing the PM, the campaign group, known as This Affects You–We Are Still Eavesdropped, said in its statement on November 21: “We think that by aggressive tone and unjustified allegations you demonstrate intolerance towards dissent, which is in conflict with the idea of building a country with high democratic standards.”
“It is regrettable that the Prime Minister is again referring to the civil society organizations with remarks inappropriate for his position,” reads the statement.
This is not the first time the PM attacked this group; in May he slammed NGOs united in the campaign This Affects You, saying that they “damage” Georgia’s international reputation and “undermine” country’s security.
“It will be really difficult to convince Georgia’s European partners that insulting comments, [aimed at] compromising media, civil society organizations and political opponents in the public eye, are the achievements of Georgian democracy and are not politically motivated,” the group said.
PM also said on November 20 that the opposition UNM was behind the model pushed for by the civil society organizations and added that the UNM members “are using their NGOs” for lobbying the proposal.
The campaign group said that PM’s allegation is “slanderous”. Lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority offered the campaign group to initiate its proposal as a bill in the Parliament, but the group declined in an attempt to avoid any possible speculation over political affiliations.
Two competing bills have been initiated in the Parliament on tackling the key issue of surveillance regulation – the both of them have been initiated by GD lawmakers. One of them, which is backed by the PM, envisages keeping direct access to telecom operators’ networks in the Interior Ministry, but the latter will also require authorization, including through technical means, from personal data protection inspector’s office to carry out surveillance. Another bill, sponsored by GD MP Vakhtang Khmaladze of the Republican Party, envisages depriving the Interior Ministry of its direct access and transferring it to the Georgian National Communications Commission.
Main argument, cited by the PM in favor of keeping the direct access capabilities within the Interior Ministry, is security.
The campaign group expressed “regret” that it was not possible under the incumbent government to achieve a proper balance between protection of privacy rights and national security as the authorities are “making main focus on strengthening security agencies.”
“It is incomprehensible why the Prime Minister is making focus only on security aspects and ignoring important principle of a democratic country, involving protection of human rights, among them, protection of personal data,” the campaign group said in its statement.
“Democracy is impossible where there is only one strong state institution – the law enforcement agencies,” it said.
“As it seems, the Prime Minister equates strengthening of the state security with stepping up of total control of citizens. We believe that the strong state is based on balanced system of institutions, where all the institutions act in the legal framework, ruling out informal governance,” reads the statement.