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Safeguarding personal data in pandemic conditions

28/01/2021

EU and UNDP help to strengthen Georgian mechanisms to protect the right to privacy

As the pandemic pushes education, healthcare and other public services online, putting huge amounts of personal data in the digital domain, the protection of citizens’ privacy assumes even greater importance.

This was the main message of a public information campaign launched by Georgia’s State Inspector’s Service (SIS) to mark Data Protection Day, which culminated in an online conference on 28 January dedicated to the introduction of data protection into the higher education curriculum in Georgia.

Supported by the European Union (EU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the week-long campaign engaged state agencies, civil society, schools and citizens and covered a wide array of topics, from processing health-related information and using social media to launching new educational programmes in data protection.

“It’s vital to inform citizens, as well as the public and private sectors, about safeguarding and protecting our personal data,” said State Inspector Londa Toloraia. “To achieve this, the Government of Georgia is taking measures to improve the legal environment and introduce international best practices.”

As part of this effort, the position of Personal Data Protection Officer will be created in private and public institutions under a new law, “On Personal Data Protection,” that the SIS submitted to Parliament in 2019. Once in force, this will ensure that each organization designates an official for personal data protection.

The new law will also align Georgia with EU standards for data protection.

“The right to privacy is a core value in democratic societies,” said EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell. “That is why the EU is helping Georgia to establish strong institutions to protect personal data and provide citizens with the information and tools they need to defend their rights.”

“Privacy is a human right that must be protected in good times and bad,” said UNDP Head Louisa Vinton. “Pandemic stresses may tempt us to take shortcuts, but in fact we must be more diligent than ever now that so much personal data is online. UNDP is committed to supporting the State Inspector in this task.”

Several Georgian universities signed a memorandum with the SIS today to introduce new educational programmes in data protection and create more opportunities in this field for Georgian students. At an online conference attended by Government, EU and UN representatives, the Georgian National University and the State Inspector’s Service also awarded the winners of an essay contest that aimed at increasing data protection awareness among students.

Other events on 22-28 January included an online conference for students and a photo contest for school children, a live Facebook session by the State Inspector on protecting privacy while using the Internet, and the release of SIS reports on processing health-related information and protecting personal data of children.

The EU, UNDP and OHCHR have been supporting personal data protection in Georgia since 2013, when the Office of the Personal Data Protection Inspector (the legal predecessor of the State Inspector’s Service) was established. This support included assistance in developing a legislative framework for the efficient operation of the service, public awareness and education campaigns focused on youth and civil servants, training and professional development of SIS staff, as well as assistance to the Service in exercising its expanded functions once an investigation mechanism was added to its mandate in 2019.

EU and UN support to the SIS will continue until 2023, under an EU-funded EUR 2.5 million (USD 3 million) programme, Human Rights for All, aimed at promoting and protecting human rights in Georgia.

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