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Usupashvili Says Efforts Should Continue to Improve Surveillance Regulations
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 1 Dec.'14 / 13:35

Parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, said that entry into force of government-backed surveillance regulation, allowing the Interior Ministry to retain direct access to telecom operators’ networks, “does not mean the issue is resolved once and for all.”

He said that there was a chance for much better outcome and efforts now should be focused on improvements, including through reforming the Interior Ministry itself, which apart of police also incorporates security and intelligence agencies.

Parliament overrode presidential veto on government-backed bill on surveillance on November 30.

“There are many positive issues there,” Usupashvili said referring to newly adopted regulations, which he was against of. “But more could have been done and there was a real chance for that, but let’s be realists and strengthen what has already been achieved and continue our efforts to make it better.”

Lawmakers from Usupashvili’s Republican Party, which is part of the GD ruling coalition, was pushing for a separate bill, envisaging depriving the Interior Ministry of its direct access to so called ‘black box’ spying devices, installed in telecom operators’ networks. Republican Party’s proposal, which was also supported by opposition MPs from UNM and Free Democrats, was voted down by rest of the GD parliamentary majority.

“The fact that I was supporting another bill, but the [competing] bill was passed – we have to get used to it; getting used to defeat also requires skills, but not in terms that everything is over, but in terms to continue efforts and struggle for improvements. In this process of [debates over surveillance regulations] many other issues have also emerged. Let’s do not view it in a way that if [black boxes] are not removed from the Interior Ministry’s [control] it would necessarily guarantee negative things; I think that the parliament, government will be able to carry out kind of reforms that will on the one hand provide for continuation of the European path and logical steps on the road of European association and on the other hand will reduce level of distrust [towards the Interior Ministry]. So the process is ongoing, nothing is over, nothing will be worse than it was one or two, three years ago, everything will be better than it was previously, but it won’t yet be on the highest level and for that purpose we should continue working,” the parliament speaker said.

He also said the fact that it was not possible now to achieve the best possible outcome should not overshadow progress that was made in this regard by legislative amendments in August, 2014, which set tighter rules for the law enforcement agencies to carry out surveillance activities, including through introduction of higher standards of justification required for law enforcement agencies to obtain court warrant on surveillance, as well as through increasing authorities of the personal data protection inspector.

But critics of the newly adopted government-backed surveillance regulation argue that some of its provisions, specifically in respect of collection of and access to communications metadata by the law enforcement agencies, worsens provisions of much hailed August 1 legislative amendments.

Critics also argue that the newly adopted regulation gives office of personal data protection inspector powers, which come in conflict with its primary oversight function. In an attempt to allay concerns over security agencies’ direct access to telecom operators’ networks, the regulation envisages giving office of personal data protection inspector the right to electronically authorize for law enforcement agencies to launch lawful interception of communication once there is a relevant court warrant. But, as opponents say, as long as the Interior Ministry keeps operating ‘black box’ devices in telecom operators’ networks, it can easily circumvent personal data protection inspector and launch unlawful surveillance without anyone even knowing about it.

Parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, also said that “emotions”, that were high during debates on the issue, should now be set aside. “There are gains and let’s now move on with further efforts,” he said.

An advocacy group of civil society organizations, which has been campaigning for reining in security agencies’ direct, unfettered access to telecom operators’ networks, is now considering possibility of taking new law to the constitutional court.

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