The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Criticizes Georgia’s Plan to Abolish State Inspector’s Service

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The Georgian Parliament should reject draft legislation undermining the independent functioning of the State Inspector’s Service, The Council of Europe Commissioner for human rights, Dunja mijatović stated.

“I call on the Georgian Parliament to refrain from adopting, in an expedited manner and without proper consultation with the relevant stakeholders, the draft law aiming at the abolition of the State Inspector’s Service which is an independent institution responsible for personal data protection and investigation of certain crimes committed by law enforcement officials. This draft legislative proposal also provides for the dismissal of the State Inspector and all those employed by the Service. If adopted, this draft law can only weaken the independent functioning of the national human rights protection mechanisms in Georgia”.

The proposal, heavily criticized by the opposition, civil society, Public Defender, and State Inspector Londa Toloraia herself, comes as the Service has remained critical over the GD government’s handling of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The Inspector is probing possible inhuman treatment of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili during his forced transfer in November from the Rustavi prison to the Gldani penitentiary clinic. It also found that the Justice Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service violated Georgia’s data protection legislation by airing several controversial footages of Saakashvili.

U.S. Ambassador Degnan:

“We raised our concerns about the draft legislation pertaining to the State Inspector service, in particular provisions that would result in the dismissal of the entire staff of the State Inspector service. We also questioned the need to rush this through in an expedited fashion. The committee chairs responded to our questions and I think they took on board our concerns, and I appreciate that.

Again, in both cases, we urged the committee chairs to delay the process. I was reassured to hear that there is going to be a process beginning in January of consultations on judicial reform and our recommendation or suggestion would be to take any legislative amendments under consideration through an expedited fashion and make them part of a more comprehensive judicial reform assessment.

Toloraia argued the initiative is intended to punish the agency for its independence and decisions against state bodies, while CSOs said the development “extremely problematic and represents legislative arbitrariness.”

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also raised concerns over the development.

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The State Inspector’s Service (SIS), a body authorized to monitor personal data protection and probe abuse of power, stated it has found that Justice Ministry and its Special Penitentiary Service violated Georgia’s personal data protection law by releasing several controversial footages of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The agency fined Justice Minister GEL 500 (USD 161) and the Special Penitentiary Service GEL 2,000 (USD 644) for violation of principles of data processing, under Article 44 of the Law on Personal Data Protection. The Penitentiary Service received a higher fine, having already received a penalty for violating the same article over the course of the year.

The State Inspector’s Service has also instructed Justice Ministry and the Penitentiary to delete footage of Mikheil Saakashvili’s personal data from Facebook and their official websites.

According to the statement, the Special Penitentiary Service and the Justice Ministry justified disclosing Saakashvili’s personal data with high public interest, arguing that misinformation was spread about the ex-President’s condition and health.

According to the statement, the State Inspector considered the November 11 airing explicit footage showing penitentiary employees drag Saakashvili against his will into the Gldani prison to constitute handling data in a manner that is degrading to the person depicted.

As for the footage featuring Saakashvili in the ambulance car, just ahead of being dragged out, the State Inspector said releasing the video was not a proportionate and adequate means for the Special Penitentiary Service to achieve its stated goal of satisfying public interest.

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On 7 December 2021, a Project Action in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Personal Data Protection was launched to build the capacity of the State Inspector’s Service (Georgian Data Protection Authority) in the field of Artificial Intelligence. It will involve research, training and policy development. As a result of the series of activities, the State Inspector’s Service of Georgia will have improved skills and knowledge to monitor Artificial Intelligence tools in respect of personal data protection.

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The Project Action is motivated by the increased use of Artificial Intelligence tools in the country by various private and public organisations and the subsequent need to ensure protection of privacy and personal data while using these tools. The event was held online and gathered up to 50 representatives of public, private, academic, international and civil society organisations.
It takes place in the framework of the Council of Europe Project “Strengthening Media Freedom, Internet Governance and Personal Data Protection” SMIP-GE.

 

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