Justice Ministry, Penitentiary Service Fined for Violation of Personal Data Protection Law

The State Inspector’s Service of Georgia has fined the Ministry of Justice and the Special Penitentiary Service, a subordinate agency of the Ministry, GEL 500 each for violating the Law on Personal Data Protection. Both state entities have to pay the fine within 30 days of receipt of notice.

The decision came after Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria appealed to the State Inspector in January 2020 to examine lawfulness of Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s actions, as Tsulukiani had publicly disclosed video footage depicting a meeting between inmates and representatives of the Public Defender. Later the Justice Ministry’s Special Penitentiary Service also released the video footage.

The State Inspector’s Service clarified that “the situation in the penitentiary and other circumstances depicted in the report,” presented by Lomjaria at the session of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, “were a matter of of public interest,” since it uncovered “systemic and non-systemic shortcomings” over the course of the monitoring. Therefore, the state inspection said, it was important to disclose the incident to the public.

The State Inspector added that “disclosing the particular incident or the names of employees of a certain penitentiary facility and of Public Defender’s representatives were not necessary in order to draw conclusions from the video recordings.”

“Hence, it is evident, that releasing the videos without blurring out faces [of the said persons] did not serve a legitimate objective, that is, to protect legal interests of the Special Penitentiary Service and satisfy public interest,” reads the decision released by the State Inspector’s Service.

The State Inspector’s Office instructed the Justice Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service to remove all video recordings containing information that classifies as personal data from their social media accounts and official websites, respectively.

The Justice Ministry responded to the State Inspector’s Service’s decision with a written statement, noting that “the State Inspector Service considers putting out video footage [by the Ministry] featuring representatives of the Public Defender’s Office visiting prison lawful.” The Ministry did not comment on the fine imposed by the State Inspector’s Office or an obligation to delete video footage.

The Justice Ministry has 10 days to challenge the decision in the court. Whether the Ministry plans to appeal against Inspector’s decisions remains unclear so far.

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