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Poland: Almost 2 million accesses to electronic communication data

11 April, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Polen: Fast 2 Millionen Zugriffe auf elektronische Kommunikationsdaten

EDRi-member Panoptykon Foundation (Poland) published last week the latest data received from the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE). During 2011, the courts, public prosecutor's office, the police and other authorities used data concerning Polish citizens' electronic communication exactly 1 856 888 times.

It is almost half a million times more than in 2010 and 800 000 times more than in 2009. Back then, the Polish public was enraged by the news of million billings that positioned Poland at the very top of the list of European countries interfering with the privacy of its citizens. In 2010 the number of requests sent to various service providers increased by one third and amounted to 1 382 521. The latest collection of data on this subject proves to be even more disturbing. It is yet another argument for the change of the policy granting authorities free access to telecommunications data.

Data retention is a legal requirement placed on the service providers to collect data concerning who, when and with whom had either tried to or successfully connected by means of electronic communication. The data is collected "just in case", thus placing everyone in the circle of possible suspects. Officially, it is supposed to serve the public safety. The Polish law, however, is very unspecific when it comes to regulating what happens to the collected data.

The police and several other governmental institutions can use the data not only for serious crime detection but also to take "preventive measures" that are still defined in a rather broad and unspecified manner. On top of that, no oversight on the part of the judge or public prosecutor's office is required. What is more, the courts themselves, more than ever before, use telecommunication data secured by the telecommunication secrecy clause in civil cases (for example, divorce and alimony cases). The problem lies within the length of the required retention. In Poland, it is required to store data for two years, while in most of the EU the retention period ranges from six months to a year.

Among the most vivid cases of abuse of this law are the ones concerning journalists being spied on by the secret services. Just recently the District Court of Warsaw confirmed that by employing such data the public prosecutor's office had breached the law. Those cases prove that the Polish law does not secure citizens from groundless invigilation. Potentially, each one of us can become an object of attention for secret services, the police or public prosecutor's office without being aware of the fact.

For over two years now the Panoptykon Foundation has tried to place the spotlight on this particular problem. The breakthrough came in 2010 after receiving research data on the topic from UKE. The special team created under the supervision of Jacek Cichocki (at the time the secretary of the collegiate on the intelligence agencies) has proposed amendments to the existing law. The proposed changes, although insufficient, went in a good direction and had a potential to, at least partially, recover control over the authorities actions. Unfortunately, after the elections the team lost its momentum. The latest statistics show that it is crucial to start the public debate, as well as work on the amendments, once again.

We still don't know, however, what exactly is hidden behind the statistics: who asks what, in relation to what cases and what number of requests is answered to the fullest extent. This is a part of a much broader problem. New technologies allow for gathering increasing numbers of data and creating electronic profiles of citizens. This, in particular, is a problem of not only lack of democratic control over one's own data but also a problem of lack of society's knowledge concerning the government's use of new technologies. The current biding law does not provide enough protection for the citizens interests and this is what the office of Human Rights Defender has been pointing out in their official claim sent to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. At the moment, we are awaiting the Tribunal's decision.

More information in Polish

Table with data provided by the Office of Electronic Communication for 2011 (only in Polish)

(Thanks to EDRi-member Panoptykon Foundation – Poland)



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