Public Defender’s Statement on Large-Scale Secret Surveillance

The Public Defender of Georgia echoes the story aired by Pirveli TV on September 17, 2022, relating to the large-scale secret surveillance and wiretapping. The TV story included video, audio and written materials obtained from closed groups concerning wiretapping and surveillance of movements of various politicians, which was allegedly carried out by the State Security Service.

First of all, we would like to point out that even 3 days after the release of the recordings, the State Security Service has not issued a statement or denied that the persons mentioned in the recordings are not working in their system, which makes the TV story more credible.

Under the conditions of mass illegal state surveillance-wiretapping, it becomes impossible to properly realize human rights. Such a scale of surveillance of private life excludes the possibility of holding free elections, functioning of independent institutions, enjoyment of fair trial, provision of civil space for activists and free realization of other rights.

There cannot be a legitimate goal of the large-scale and total control of private life shown in the TV story and it cannot be justified by any state or public purpose. The scale of politicization of the representatives of state bodies is worth mentioning separately, which could be clearly identified in the recordings, in which the representative of the state agency identified himself with a specific political party.

Non-governmental organizations and the Public Defender of Georgia have repeatedly pointed out that the monitoring mechanisms for the protection of private life are insufficient in Georgia. In 2017, we applied to the Constitutional Court and demanded that the legislation regulating secret surveillance be recognized as unconstitutional due to insufficient guarantees. The Constitutional Court completed the consideration of the case in early 2018, but it has not delivered a judgement yet, thereby it is not fulfilling its obligation to protect the supremacy of the constitution.

Unfortunately, the relevant parliamentary oversight mechanisms do not work either (the State Inspector has also referred to their inefficiency in her reports). After the disclosure of the secret recordings in September 2021, the Public Defender requested to summon the Head of the State Security Service to the Parliament within the framework of the parliamentary oversight mechanism, which has not been fulfilled. Contrary to this, in December 2021, the Parliament of Georgia abolished the state body responsible for personal data protection and dismissed its head, thereby further weakened the effectiveness of the privacy oversight system.

At the national level, the investigation of alleged illegal wiretapping is the competence of the Prosecutor's Office, and therefore, we once again call upon it to conduct an effective investigation, within the shortest possible time, and recognize all the persons whose rights were violated as victims. In addition, it is necessary that the course of the investigation of the given case be transparent and information be proactively provided to the public. It is a pity that the Prosecutor's Office did not give access to the materials of the aforementioned investigation to the Public Defender’s Office.

In order to effectively protect the right to private life, the Public Defender of Georgia calls on all relevant persons to make maximum use of the mechanism of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

At the same time, we ask the European Court of Human Rights to give priority consideration to the applications sent from Georgia relating to private life and secret surveillance.

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