Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed the new surveillance bill, which was approved by the Parliament on March 1, 2017 and which entails the establishment of a special agency for conducting surveillance operations.
Speaking at his news briefing on March 20, a day before the expiration date for signing the legislation, President Margvelashvili said that the bill suffers from two shortcomings.
“The first one is related to [the agency’s] independence, which is not guaranteed by the bill and therefore, contradicts to the Constitutional Court’s decision. And the second is that the bill imposes unjustified and unpredictable financial burden on telecommunications service providers,” President Margvelashvili explained.
“Everyone understands that the veto can be easily defeated,” he added, referring to the established practice of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia overriding the presidential objections. “But perhaps, time has come to scrutinize the bill and our objections, and instead of demonstrating that the veto can be defeated, give Georgia a better legislation.”
The Parliament will have to either accept the presidential objections or override the veto with the support of at least 76 lawmakers.
Prior to the President’s decision to veto the bill, members of his administration held consultations with MPs from the United National Movement, the Movement for Liberty-European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots.
The new bill entails the establishment of the Operative-Technical Agency under the State Security Service, which will be authorized to conduct telephone communications monitoring and recording; telecommunication channel and software monitoring; geo-location tracking in real time; monitoring of postal messages; covert audio and video surveillance and photo recording.
The March 20 veto is the second time President Margvelashvili has vetoed a surveillance-related bill.
President Margvelashvili vetoed the government-supported legislation allowing security agencies to have direct, unrestricted access to telecom operators’ networks in November 2014, but the Parliament overrode it.
On April 14, 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation allowing security agency to have direct, unrestricted access to telecom operators’ networks to monitor communications was unconstitutional. The court also ordered to end this long-standing practice and to replace existing surveillance regulations with the new one before March 31, 2017.
An ad hoc parliamentary working group was established in January, 2017 to bring the country’s surveillance regulations in line with the Constitutional Court’s decision.
The Parliament adoped the new bill on March 1, 2017.