The experience of recent years, especially the information spread a few days ago about the alleged facts of mass interception, clearly shows that covert surveillance is a systemic challenge for Georgia. Total surveillance, the use of covert surveillance records as a tool for political retaliation, influencing people and blackmailing them reveal a severe crisis, a democratic setback, and a disregard for human rights standards in the country.
The institutional arrangement of the State Security Service, the excessive and uncontrolled power concentrated in its hands, the lack of an efficient system of oversight are incompatible with fundamental democratic values and principles. The regulatory and institutional framework governing covert surveillance fails to ensure adequate protection of privacy. There is no effective system of supervision and control in the country and there are no proper procedural guarantees to prevent the abuse of power by the state.
Moreover, the State Security Service is a closed agency and a significant part of its activities is classified. The opacity of the institutions in the security sector hinders the exercise of public control over them, which further increases the risk of arbitrariness and abuse of power.
Independent oversight body in the country - the State Inspector's Service is not equipped with proper leverage of control and oversight. It has the function of monitoring covert investigative actions, controls covert investigative actions carried out under a court ruling or in the case of urgent necessity, under a reasoned resolution of a prosecutor, however, such monitoring cannot ensure the prevention and detection of illegal surveillance. Operative-Technical Agency has the technical ability to bypass the oversight mechanisms and carry out covert surveillance, which poses a risk of total surveillance and violation of the right to privacy of each individual.
Parliamentary oversight of the security sector is also inefficient. Based on the existing legislation the Parliamentary Trust Group which exercises oversight in the area of state defense and security does not possess relevant mechanisms of control and supervision. The established rule of control of the operative-technical agency is vague and does not allow for a thorough inspection of the activities of the agency.
The current situation is aggravated by the fact that the Prosecutor's Office is perceived as an institution subject to political influence. Accordingly, expectations for an effective and transparent investigation of crimes related to the violation of the right to privacy are low.
Although an independent investigative mechanism exists in the country in the form of the State Inspector's Service, its investigative mandate is limited, and certain crimes of high public interest remain beyond the scope of this mechanism. Under current law, the Inspector's Service is responsible for overseeing the lawfulness of personal data processing by public and private institutions, however, if in the process signs of a criminal offense are revealed, the case is sent to the relevant investigative body for response.
Moreover, Georgia has not yet ratified modernized convention 108 for the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data. Ratification of the 108+ Convention is of great importance for Georgia, as it sets a higher standard of data protection, which will contribute to the implementation of internationally recognized principles and the establishment of best practices at the national level. Even more significant is the commitment to ensure effective and independent oversight of data processing for state security and defense purposes, which would be an important step forward in increasing security sector accountability. Unfortunately, Georgia is among the eight member states of the Council of Europe that have not yet signed the modernized convention.
Finally, the existing legal and institutional framework indicates the existence of serious problems in terms of privacy, which form the basis of arbitrariness and gross violations of human rights by the state. The more extensive and ambiguous the powers vested in state bodies, and the less control over its exercise, the higher the risk of abuse of power.
The existence of solid guarantees for the protection of privacy is essential to a democratic state. This right enables people to develop their personalities, opinions, and relationships freely. A free, democratic society requires respect for personal autonomy, minimizing interference by the state and individuals. The main purpose of the right to privacy is to protect the individual from arbitrary interference by the state. Unfortunately, the current situation in Georgia is alarming, which indicates the need for fundamental and systemic changes.
The blog post is prepared within the scope of the project "Promoting Personal Data Protection in Georgia“. The Project is funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia. The views expressed in this blog post may not necessarily reflect the views of the Embassy of the Netherlands.
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