Monday, June 20, 2016

Perceptions of surveillance in Georgia: 2013 – 2015

In May, 2015 CRRC published a blog post about public perceptions of surveillance in Georgia. It showed that people in Georgia were concerned about their privacy when talking on the phone and when using the internet. Even though the current government criticized the surveillance-related legislation and practices of its predecessor, and, after coming to power, passed a new surveillance law, the new law did not change the situation much. Importantly, this law still provides the Ministry of Internal Affairs with direct and unlimited access to Georgian telecommunications data. Surprisingly for many, in March, 2016 government representatives themselves became the victims of surveillance, when videos from their personal lives were spread on social media. It is a sad irony that  surveillance practices became a “weapon” used against members of the government, who had largely ignored representatives of civil society's critiques of these practices.

CRRC-Georgia carried out a new wave of public opinion poll of the Georgian-speaking population of the country for Transparency International – Georgia (CRRC-TIG Survey) in April, 2015. The results show that, unsurprisingly, like the surveillance law itself, public perceptions of surveillance practices in Georgia have not changed much between 2013 and 2015. This blog post discusses the results of this poll and shows that in 2015, a majority of Georgians were still uncertain or concerned about surveillance practices in the country, feeling insecure when talking over the phone and browsing the internet.

As in 2013, in 2015 only about one fourth of Georgians reported feeling comfortable sharing a critical opinion about current political events in the country with a friend while talking on a cell phone. The remainder was either undecided or reported they would not share their views.

In 2015, only 27% didn’t think the government monitored their internet activities. Moreover, almost half believed that law enforcement authorities wiretap politically active citizens that are not criminal suspects, journalists, or politicians. As the chart below shows, a large share of Georgians think that the government wiretaps crime suspects, politicians, journalists and ordinary, politically active citizens.

These results are alarming not only because they indicate a public state of fear, but also because this fear could prevent people from being politically active and critical citizens. It could also discourage individuals from becoming journalists or politicians.

Even though the results discussed in this and the previous blog post presented public perceptions of existing surveillance practices in Georgia, as recent events have evidenced, these perceptions may not be far from reality. Therefore, public perceptions should inform the government about the potential weaknesses of their governance in this regard.

On a positive note, the Constitutional court of Georgia recently ruled that the current laws and regulations about surveillance are unconstitutional, and that Parliament must prepare new surveillance legislation by March 31, 2017. CRRC-Georgia will continue tracking people’s opinion on this issue and hopes that the new regulations will help Georgians to be more critical and active citizens who do not fear that the government is monitoring their activities.

To explore the CRRC-TIG survey data, please visit CRRC’s online data analysis tool.

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