On 22 March 2021, a group of journalists and activists published a letter they had received from the non-existent “Agency of National Security” on their social media profiles, informing them that they were subject to surveillance. The letter was accompanied by a message notifying them that it is part of a campaign launched by EDRi member Panoptykon Foundation that aims to demonstrate the problem of unscrutinised powers of intelligence agencies.
The rapid spread of digital technologies has been of ‘benefit’ to intelligence agencies. However, it seems that the law is lagging behind and today unable to take novel surveillance methods into consideration that are used by intelligence agencies around the world. While European courts frequently limit or invalidate measures such as blanket telecommunication data retention, Poland is still expanding its secret services’ competencies to control residents.
Police and other agencies are massively using and sometimes abusing those powers, often going beyond any scrutiny as courts authorise only the use of wiretapping. In 2019, the Polish police set up 8,065 wiretaps and placed 1.35 million requests for telecommunication metadata. Any other forms of surveillance, like checking databases, requesting telecommunications data, and using GPS trackers have been deployed by the police happens without court permission. Unless they are subsequently charged with a crime, the citizens subjected to that surveillance do not even have a chance to find out that they were being followed.
Based on the experience of other European countries like Germany and Norway, Panoptykon Foundation’s campaign calls for introducing:
- A special office in charge of controlling how police and secret services use their powers;
- The right to be informed when being subjected to surveillance.
On the first day of the launch, the “Nobody will tell you when they will follow you” campaign reached two million people and collected more than a thousand signatories on its petition to the Polish authorities.