In March 2023, a group of Georgian parliamentarians introduced a draft Law of Georgia “On Registration of Foreign Agents. The drafters claim that they copied the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, but many of the provisions of the Draft Law are either used out of context or completely different from the U.S. law. This ICNL and ECNL briefer provides an overview of the Draft Law and points out its potential impact on the people and businesses of Georgia and its enforcement.
The Draft Law’s Requirements
Many businesses would have to register as “foreign agents.”
Under the Draft Law, a business must register as a “foreign agent” with the government if it is “under the control, order or request of a foreign power, acting under the control, order or request of a person directly or indirectly, in whole or in major part controlled or financed by a foreign power.” This means all credit card companies and banks, including local ones, with foreign capital, would have to register. Similarly, all Georgian and foreign businesses, such as McDonald’s, Carrefour, Nestle, and Samsung, would have to register as “foreign agents” as they provide “assets” in the interest of the foreign power. This will undermine foreign investment and seriously impede the ease of doing business in Georgia.
Many members of Parliament and other government officials would have to register as “foreign agents.”
Under the Draft Law, one must register as a “foreign agent” if they act as a “political advisor,” which includes “informing…on the issues of Georgia’s domestic or foreign policies.” Therefore, when a foreign corporation requests that a Member of Parliament or other government official provides information about the regulatory environment for foreign investment in Georgia, the official must register as a “foreign agent” if they provide that information. Similarly, a government official would need to register if a foreigner emailed them a request to answer a simple question, such as whether women could vote in Georgia.
The Draft Law’s Potential Impact
The Draft Law claims it will ensure transparency surrounding foreign influence; however, in actuality, it would subject a large portion of Georgians to possible criminal liability, expose personal data, and violate the privacy of many people. Additionally, it would enable government officials to use its provisions at their discretion, facilitating corruption and unwarranted harassment of people and businesses.
Many ordinary Georgians would need to register and meet onerous and intrusive reporting requirements.
The Draft Law would require any Georgian employed by foreign-owned companies or organizations to register as “foreign agents.” This also applies to Georgians living and working abroad. If they send money to their family members in Georgia, they could be considered “foreign powers,” and their family members could be regarded as “foreign agents.”
Further, the information provided when registering as a “foreign agent” will be made available to the public on a government website. And if people fail to register and meet reporting requirements, they could face criminal prosecution.
The Draft Law does not address the problem.
While the Draft Law would require many ordinary Georgians to register with the government and impose burdensome reporting requirements on them, it is poorly suited to address the type of nefarious foreign influence its authors claim to target. For example, a Russian spy would be exempt from registering under the proposed Act as it exempts “any foreign public official.”
The Draft Law’s Enforcement
The Draft Law is vaguely drafted, making it impossible to comply with.
The Draft Law is extremely broad and vaguely defines the people, companies, and organizations that fall under its requirements, making it challenging to figure out if and when they should register.
The Draft Law provides the government with almost unlimited discretion against whom to apply its requirements.
The Georgian government would have to establish a vast and expensive apparatus for its enforcement instead of dedicating these resources to the real protection of national interests and the social safety of the Georgian people. The government would likely choose instead to allow its officials to implement it at their discretion, causing unwarranted harassment, especially for independent voices, watchdogs, and political opponents.
The Draft Law would create a sprawling surveillance apparatus that captures many ordinary Georgians and businesses, forcing them to register as “foreign agents” and subjecting them to burdensome reporting requirements and potential criminal prosecution, all at the government’s discretion. It will also significantly undermine the Georgian economy, deterring foreign investment. In addition, it will provide the Georgian government with almost unlimited discretion over whom to prosecute, putting in danger independent voices, civil society watchdogs, and political opponents.
Read the full briefer here.