Unconditional access to public officials, and simplified access to any citizen’s personal data and correspondence – these and many other rights will be granted to the State Security Service from December 30. How will he exercise these rights? This will be decided mainly by the Operational Technical Agency (OTA) under the SUS.
The powers of the law enforcement agency will be increased as a result of the amendments to the Law on Information Security on June 11.
“This law radically changes the architecture of cyber security in the country. The operative-technical agency becomes a coordinating and supervising agency, ”said Teona Turashvili, an analyst at the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). He explains that the changes run counter to the EU’s commitments.
IDFI, along with many other organizations, points out that the content of the changes is also unconstitutional, as it violates the right to privacy of citizens. According to Nika Simonishvili, the chairman of the Young Lawyers’ Association, along with the great “offline” power, the “total control” of the Internet will fall into the hands of SUS.
Freedom in the face of problems
These and other issues are addressed in the Internet release report of the international human rights organization Freedom House.
In 2021, Georgia gained 77 points out of 100 and maintained its status as a free country in the digital world. Unlike its neighbors, people in Georgia are not arrested for their Facebook posts and websites that are not in favor of the government are blocked, but Internet freedom is at stake:
The organization writes – Hackers attack the websites of media outlets and civil society organizations, often harassing people in the digital space (as well as in real life). However, the report predicts that the dismissal of an embassy employee in the UK due to Facebook posts will increase self-censorship among public officials.
Meanwhile, the Georgian state cannot protect itself from cyber attacks. An example of this is the 2020 report on hacking attacks on the Ministry of Health, Lugar Laboratory and the CEC.
The unscrupulous guards
According to the Law on Information Security, control of public institutions and Internet providers is necessary because they are “critical information subjects”.
Teona Turashvili says that it is unclear by what criteria they were selected and why they are not included in the number, for example, Telasi or a water supply company?
The motive for the amendments to the Law on Information Security is to better protect the country’s cyber security. But critics say the problem is that online watchdogs can’t be watched by anyone.
Who will control OTA itself, who will determine what can be viewed and what not? “No one – answers Teona Turashvili – the law does not specify what type of accountability [ოტას] To other agencies. ” The State Inspector’s Office, which is directly responsible for the protection of personal data, is also “out of the game”.
That is, if they wish, law enforcement officers will be able to easily read, for example, the e-mail of a judge and control what sites he / she accesses from the work computer.
To access the ISP’s network and infrastructure, special services must first detect the incident. The provider may refuse to visit Ota, but Ota may fine him in return.
Teona Turashvili believes that this leverage makes it easier for the special services to obtain consent. Moreover, without a clear explanation, any minor case can be considered as an “incident”, for example, even a few seconds of internet connection interruption.
Access to the provider’s network means that, if desired, any OTA user can view correspondence and personal data.
“It depends on what kind of configuration sensor it will install. If he decides to see your whole history and its content, of course, he will do it, ”said Teona Turashvili.
Who decides what kind of configuration sensor to install and what information is legally accessible? SUS again.
International and local organizations have been publicly saying for years that the activities of the special services too often remain out of control. None of the branches of government has enough leverage to check whether their actions are legal. For example, covert surveillance. This in turn increases the risks of arbitrariness and abuse of power.
On September 13, literally copied dialogues were among the thousands of files leaked from SUS. Opponents of the changes fear that after December 30, SUS will be able to legally do what it now formally violates existing laws.