Covert Surveillance in Georgia 2018-2020

News | Research | Rule of Law and Human Rights | Analysis 7 July 2021

The Supreme Court of Georgia prepares a registry of covert investigative actions. The registry holds statistics on covert investigative activities, in particular, on the motions for carrying out covert investigative actions submitted to the court and the court rulings on them.

 

The present study reviews the statistics on the motions for carrying out covert investigative activities, as well as for approval of covert investigative activities carried out under the circumstances of urgency, submitted to, heard, and granted by the first instance courts in 2018-2020. The study also provides statistics on judicial orders on electronic surveillance submitted to the LEPL Operational-Technical Agency under the Law of Georgia on Counter-Intelligence Activities.

 

In addition, the study highlights the recent cases of circulation of illegal recordings and wiretapping, which indicates the existence of serious challenges to privacy in the country.

 

The information given in the study is based on the statistics of covert investigative activities provided by the Supreme Court of Georgia and published on the website of the same court, on the public information received from the LEPL Operational-Technical Agency of Georgia, as well as on the reports of the State Inspector's Service and the Public Defender.

 

Key Findings

 

- During 2020, a total of 997 motions for wiretapping and covert recording were heard by the first instance courts of Georgia. The Tbilisi City Court heard 62% of all these motions.

 

- The number of wiretapping and covert recording of subscriber numbers has gradually increased since 2018 and reached as high as 2403 cases in the first quarter of 2021, which is almost half the total of the previous year.

 

- The number of resolutions on wiretapping and covert recording carried out under the urgent circumstances submitted to the State Inspector's Service by the prosecutors has been steadily rising since 2018. The figure for resolutions stood at only 36 in 2018, followed by a considerable increase to 81 in 2019, and 107 in 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, it has already reached 32.

 

- The cases of using the mechanism of suspension of wiretapping and covert recording by the State Inspector's Service also grew in parallel with the rising number of wiretapping and covert recording in recent years. In 2020, the figure for the use of the suspension mechanism reached a peak of 116 cases (115 on court rulings and 1 prosecutor’s resolution).

 

- Over the past three years, 2020 saw the highest grant rate of motions related to wiretapping and covert recording at 92%. The number stood at 88% in 2018, while in 2019, the courts granted only 84% of motions.

 

- Overall, in 2020, 3442 motions for covert investigative activities were submitted to the first instance courts of Georgia.As in past years, the majority of motions were submitted to the Tbilisi City Court.

 

- The number of motions for covert investigative actions submitted to the first instance courts of Georgia decreased significantly - by 51%- compared to the previous year. Furthermore, the rate of the motions being granted showed a downward trend: in 2018, the percentage of motions grantedby the courts was at 95.7%, in 2019 - 94.6%, and 2020 - 94.2%.

 

- The proportion of motions for approval of carried out covert investigative action under the circumstances of urgency heard by the courts has increased since 2018. In 2018, only 1% of the motions heard by the first instance courts were related to the approval of carried out covert investigative action under the circumstances of urgency, increasing up to 4% in 2019 and 6% in 2020.

 

- The proportion of motions granted by the courts regarding the approval of carried out covert investigative actions was at 92.6% in 2018, dropping to 84.7% in 2019, and peaking at 98.6% in 2020.

 

- Illegal wiretapping and the dissemination of secret recordings, as well as the impunity of the perpetrators, remain serious problems, which show the lack of adequate safeguards for the protection of the right to privacy.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The data shows that the total number of motions for covert investigative activities submitted to the courts and the rate at which they have been granted have decreased between 2018-2020. The reason is the significant decline in motions for requesting information or a document from a computer system or computer data storage medium over the last three years. The number of motions related to this investigative action has decreased from 7,150 (in 2018) to 1,348 (2020).

 

On the other hand, the rate at which motions for extension of covert investigative action and for covert audio-video recording or photo shooting are granted has been increasing since 2018. The figure for motions for wiretapping and covert recording also grew compared to the past year. Furthermore, the proportion of motions for approval of covert investigative activities carried out under the circumstances of urgency heard by the courts has also been on the rise. The rate at which they were granted increased as well, reaching 98.5% in 2020. The rate of using the mechanism of suspension of wiretapping and covert recording by the State Inspector's Service has also grown over the past years.

 

In addition, illegal wiretapping and the dissemination of secret recordings, as well as the impunity of the perpetrators, remain serious problems. All cases of blackmail with private information obtained by illegal covert surveillance require a timely and effective response.

 

The legislative and institutional framework governing covert surveillance in Georgia has repeatedly been criticized for failing to set strict safeguards for the protection of privacy. Unfortunately, there is no effective system of supervision and control in the country and no proper procedural guarantees to prevent the abuse of power.

 

/public/upload/Analysis/Covert Surveillance ENG final (1).pdf

 

 

This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.

 

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