More than 9,000 people were under electronic surveillance in 2018, official data show
Despite the questionable legality of the measure, more than 9,000 people in Georgia were electronically surveilled or shadowed in 2018.
Such conclusions were made by the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), having studied the data of various official departments.
Who is being surveilled and why?
According to published data, the number of people who are under surveillance has significantly in the last few years.
For comparison: in 2015, the court received 2,719 requests for surveillance, while in 2018 the number reached 9,606 requests. The judge granted 97 percent of these requests.
According to the IDFI, law enforcement agencies are requesting permission for covert surveillance of suspected fraud, extortion, involvement in international crime, links to ‘thieves-in-law’, bribery and drug trafficking.
What does the data mean?
IDFI notes that when amendments to the law on covert operations were adopted in 2017, they did not meet the requirements of non-governmental organizations, which were put forward as part of the ‘This concerns you’ protest campaign.
The “This concerns you” campaign was started by several non-governmental organizations, and was first launched in February 2012 to develop measures to improve the pre-election situation in the country.
The campaign was renewed in 2014, this time against secret hearings and surveillance. In 2015, the movement “This concerns you” appealed to the Constitutional Court to recognize the unconstitutional system of secret observations. The Constitutional Court agreed with this request on April 14, 2016.
In March 2017, the parliament adopted a legislative package to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court. A special operational and technical agency was created, and now, only this structure has the right to secret surveillance. But the agency is under the control of the state security service – and therefore the new law has been sharply criticized by both the opposition and non-governmental organizations.
“What are we spending our taxes and other resources on? On the misguided goals of the state”, MP Giorgi Kandelaki from the opposition European Georgia party said, commenting on the IDFI study.
“As a result, hidden records appear in open access to the public, in which opposition leaders were illegally recorded. Some of these are fabricated, others are real recordings, including the private lives of people.
“Moreover, what did need to be surveilled was ignored. For example, it turned out that the house where Chatayev and other terrorists were located was not under surveillance [ed. referring to a special operation in December 2017 in Tbilisi when a militant of the so-called Islamic State Akhmed Chatayev was killed]. Also, for all these years not a single Russian spy has been detained”, said George Kandelaki.
The problem with the emergence of open access secret records
For many years in Georgia, the problem of shooting via hidden camera and then publishing videos of the private life of not only politicians, but also people of other professions, has remained a problem.
The last time this happened was in February 2019, when videotapes depicting the private life of MP Eka Beselia were released.
This incident coincided with a period when she declared her disagreement with her party colleagues about the candidacies of judges for the Supreme Court.
16 people were detained for storing and distributing these records. However, the investigation has not established who made the secret recording in the first place.
The ruling Georgian Dream party, which came to power in 2012, has accused the previous government, under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili, of conducting secret surveillance of the population. The government claims that all hidden records created at that time have been destroyed.