Illegal Surveillance Bill will be approved in May

The photo reads the name of the campaign:" This Affects You – We are still being Wiretapped", 01 May 2014 - 18:37, Tbilisi,Georgia

Laws to forbid illegal surveillance of Georgian citizens is expected to be passed by Parliament at its first hearing on May 15 or 16, says Parliament Speaker David Usupashvili.

His comments were in response to the Prime Minister's statment asking Parliament to pass the Bill immediately, and the opinion of a large group of civil society organizations who  pushed for a legislative amendment to limit the law enforcement bodies surveillance capabilities.

"Before Parliament takes a month break due to the expected self-government elections, we will pass most of the amendments at the first hearing,” Usupashvili said at a press conference today.

"There is only one procedural issue relating to the mobile telecommunication companies that needs additional discussion.”

Parliament Speaker believed parties had agreed on most of the issues and talk surrounding illegal surveillance of Georgian citizens must be stopped.

Earlier today, organizations participating in the campaign "This Affects You – We are still being Wiretapped,” was slammed by the Prime Minister. The campaign is being run by non-government organizations against illegal surveillance. Prime Minister Garibashvili said this campaign was "damaging Georgia’s international reputation and undermining the country’s security”.

"When the image of our country is being strengthened in the international arena and we are showing progress every day, these people spend thousands of Lari in advertisements that destroy the country's image. I call this an undermining activity of the country", Garibashvili said at today's Governmental meeting.

He said the "This Affects You" campaign falsely claimed that citizens were still being eavesdropped.

Garibashvili also believed the version of the Bill presented by non-governmental groups and opposition party United National Movement (UNM) was a "real disaster" and it would have jeopardized the smooth and efficient work of the entire law enforcement system and security system of the country.

"We have not allowed this and we have started developing the mentioned Bill,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s criticism towards the NGO sector has been strongly opposed by "This Affects You" campaign member organisations, including Transparency International Georgia.

The anti-corruption watchdog’s executive director, Eka Gigauri believed law enforcement agencies had "immense surveillance capabilities" and called on the Government to be more corrective.

"The Ministry of Internal Affairs has the capability to eavesdrop successfully 21,000 citizens simultaneously and these facts have been mentioned not only by the civil society sector but in the reports of the EU's Special Adviser Thomas Hammarberg and in the State Department’s reports,” Gigauri said.

She said the PM had loed when he said the Bill had been proposed by UNM and NGO's. "The Bill was proposed by journalists Zviad Koridze and Lasha Tugushi and the Juridical Committee of Parliament,” she said.

The issue of illegal surveillance has become a subject of intense discussion in Georgia following the revelation thousands of secret video recordings were kept by the former government of Georgia.

The current Government has pledged to establish strong mechanisms in legislative and executive level to prevent illegal surveillance. But human rights and watchdog groups said despite these promises, law enforcement agencies still had unlimited access to data from communication service operators.