Georgian developments – making a difference in practice

In the past year Pasi Koistinen, CEO of Geocell, TeliaSonera’s local operator in Georgia, has lobbied for a change in legislation that allows Georgian government agiencies to have real time access to the networks in the in the absence of clear regulation and judicial control.

Pasi Koistinen has lobbied for a change in the legislation in GeorgiaThis provision has implications for the freedom of expression and privacy for the citizens of a country, and it is one of the most challenging human rights issue telecommunications operators face.
Freedom of expression and customer data protection are at the top of Geocell’s sustainability agenda.

“We identified that the recent amendments to Georgian legislation, allowing law enforcement authorities to have a direct and permanent connection to telecom networks, mail servers and physical lines, as well giving them the right to copy databases and have real time control over the voice and data traffic, are matters that require special attention and thorough analysis. This should be not only from the perspective of national security and crime prevention, but also take into account the principles of human rights,” says Pasi Koistinen.

Geocell took the initiative

For TeliaSonera in all its markets, it is important that government surveillance of communications should be under the supervision of a court or other judicial oversight mechanism. At present, Georgia operates a mixed system.  In some cases, operators receive court decisions requiring them to give the authorities access to their networks, in other cases, the authorities can establish access directly without the knowledge of the operators.

Last year’s parliamentary elections in Georgia presented a window of opportunity. Geocell took the initiative to meet the Prosecutor General of Georgia to discuss the issue and state its case.

Cooperation with Transpararency international

“We started cooperation with Transparency International (TI)  in Georgia, and participated in the special conference on Secret Surveillance and Personal Data Protection it organized in May, and we have taken part in other meetings and initiatives. In July, we raised the issue with the Minister of Justice, Ms Tea Tsulukiani, and based on these discussions, she formed a parliamentary committee for drafting new laws of interception. We have actively participated in the work of the committee, and we believe it has significantly contributed to the recent initiative of the Government of Georgia to draw up a new draft law on surveillance activities,” says Pasi Koistinen.

Recently, a separate meeting was organized by TI Georgia with the Council of Europe´s former Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Thomas Hammarberg. The CEO and the General Counsel of Geocell participated in the meeting together with three representatives of key non-governmental and public organizations. They discussed in detail the current issues around electronic surveillance and identified the need for a number of reforms. The issue was also discussed separately at a meeting with Minister of Justice of Georgia together with the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors.

Involved in creating legal framework

“Geocell is involved in developing clear and transparent legal norm and principles that in turn should guarantee freedom of expression and privacy not only on paper, but in reality,” says Pasi Koistinen.
The Georgian experience is an example of how TeliaSonera can play an active role in addressing a complicated and sensitive issue that has far-reaching implications for society as a whole.