Poland: Almost 2 million accesses to electronic communication data

By EDRi · April 11, 2012

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Deutsch: [Polen: Fast 2 Millionen Zugriffe auf elektronische Kommunikationsdaten | https://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_10.7_Polen_Fast_2_Millionen_Zugriffe_auf_elektronische_Kommunikationsdaten?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20120411]

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)