Another lawsuit has been filed in the Constitutional Court seeking to revoke a controversial clause in legislation, which allows the Interior Ministry to retain direct access to telecom operators’ networks.
Almost similar, but separate, lawsuit has already been filed in the same court earlier this year by the Public Defender’s Office.
The recent lawsuit was initiated by a campaign group This Affects You, which is made up of dozens of non-governmental organizations, and which was launched last year with the purpose to rein in security agencies’ direct, unfettered access to telecom operators’ networks.
In late November Parliament passed government-backed package of legislative amendments, allowing the Interior Ministry to retain its direct access to telecom operators’ servers, but at the same time giving the office of personal data protection inspector the right to electronically authorize law enforcement agencies’ lawful interception of communications once there is a relevant court warrant.
But, as opponents say, as long as the Interior Ministry keeps operating ‘black box’ spy devices in telecom operators’ networks, it can easily circumvent personal data protection inspector and launch unlawful surveillance.
The lawsuit argues that these capabilities of the security agencies, which also allows them unrestricted access to and collection of communications metadata (the time, length and phone numbers of the calls), violates three clauses of constitution involving inviolability of a citizen’s private life; protection from unauthorized access to information stored in official papers pertaining to individual’s private matters, and right to “free development of his/her personality”. Unlike the lawsuit of activists, the one filed by the Public Defender challenges the surveillance law in respect of one clause of the constitution related to inviolability of a citizen’s private life.
An active campaign of This Affects You group last year led to legislative amendments passed by the Parliament in August 2014, which made, as the group said, “significant advances” towards protecting the right to privacy in Georgia.
“These positive steps, however, were drastically undermined with the second set of amendments adopted in November 2014. As a result, the law still allows the law enforcement agencies within the MIA to retain unchecked, direct access to telecommunications data,” This Affects You said on April 8.
According to European Commission’s recent annual report, assessing progress in EU’s neighborhood countries, Georgia brought its legal and institutional framework further into line with the EU in respect of data protection. But the report also notes rights groups’ concerns over provisions of the surveillance legislation that enables the Interior Ministry to retain direct access to telecommunication operatorsâ€™ networks.
The report calls on Georgia to tackle “illegal surveillance by revising the surveillance legislation in line with international standards” and in consultations with the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, Venice Commission.