Activists are criticizing draft legislation that would expand the Kyrgyz government's ability to monitor telephone calls and email.
Parliament adopted amendments to the laws, "On Operative Investigation Activities" and "On the Electronic and Postal Services," on March 25. The changes now await President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's signature before they become law.
The State Committee on National Security (known by its Russian acronym, GKNB) already has the ability to eavesdrop on suspected criminals, provided that agents obtain a court order. The amendments, however, would substantially simplify state security agents' ability to monitor anyone.
Civil society activists contend that the amendments are unconstitutional. "These drafts are at odds with constitutional privacy norms for civilians, where it says that [the security services must] have a prosecutor's sanction to implement such a practice," Tattu Mambetalieva, head of Civil Initiative on Internet Policy, an NGO, told EurasiaNet.org.
The legislative changes appear likely to place an economic burden on telecom companies in Kyrgyzstan. And, ultimately, it may be mobile phone users themselves who shoulder the cost of the expanded monitoring effort. That's because the legislation mandates that phone service providers operating in Kyrgyzstan install monitoring equipment at their own expense.
"The government is passing the expenses for the equipment on to cellular operators. But it is obvious that operators will pass that [cost] on to mobile subscribers," Mambetalieva said. "Maybe big companies can handle [such expenses], but small mobile companies will not be able to survive because it is a lot of money."
Mobile phone users already balked earlier this year when the government applied a new tax of 0.6 som per phone call (approximately $0.01).
Lawyer Akmat Alagushev, head of the Media Commissioner's Institute, expressed concern that the amendments could hurt telecoms. "The only big change I see is the imposition that cellular phone operators must buy the equipment at their own expense, which of course might influence subscribers in the form of a price hike," he said on March 31.