Bulgaria’s Parliament passed at first reading on June 13 amendments to the Special Intelligence Means Act, the law governing the use of wire-tapping by law enforcement, which envision creating a separate government agency to carry out any eavesdropping activities.
The new body, dubbed the State Agency for Technical Operations, will be subordinated to the Cabinet and will be set up by transforming the specialised operative and technical operations directorate of the Interior Ministry.
Its director will be elected by Parliament for a term of four years, at the suggestion of the prime minister. The prime minister will also directly appoint the two deputy directors of the agency, according to the bill.
The agency will have its own Budget funding, but will not pay for any eavesdropping operations it will carry out – such costs will be borne by the state institutions making the wire-tapping requests.
Oversight of the agency’s activities is to be carried out by a new national bureau and by a permanent parliamentary committee tasked specifically with oversight of wire-tapping. The national bureau, according to the amendments, is to be an independent body made of five members, each elected for a term of five years by Parliament.
The amendments were passed after several hours of debate on parliamentary floor, although much of the discussion degenerated into name-calling and mutual attacks between MPs for the ruling majority and the opposition.
Most of this discussion was focused on the former interior minister in the Borissov cabinet, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was officially charged on June 12 with failing to carry out oversight over the use wiretaps by the Interior Ministry during his time in office.
(An investigation by prosecutors found that lax controls over police eavesdropping created an environment ripe for abuse, but no evidence that such abuse had been carried out, as claimed by an anonymous tip-off sent to the media in late March. The tip-off alleged that illegal electronic surveillance had targeted – at Tsvetanov orders – a range of government and opposition politicians, business people, members of the judiciary, protest leaders and other public figures. For a full list of the people alleged to have been eavesdropped on, see The Sofia Globe report here).
Concerning the substance of the amendments, the main criticism levelled at the bill by opposition party GERB is that it has not been put up for public discussion for two weeks, as required by Bulgarian law. GERB, the party of Borissov and Tsvetanov, opposed the recent amendments that transferred the interior ministry’s chief directorate for combatting organised crime to the State Agency for National Security on the same grounds.
(Bulgarian Parliament. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)