Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Poland: Controversial Proposals and Measures on Surveillance Law, Constitutional Tribunal, and Media Law

(Feb. 3, 2016) Poland’s government is planning legal changes that would increase the surveillance over the country’s citizens. The new provisions, proposed by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would increase the government’s access to digital data while reducing restrictions on the use of surveillance by the police. (Dominic Yobbi, Thousands March in Poland to Protest New Surveillance Laws, PAPER CHASE (Jan. 24, 2016).)

Poles have actively protested the new surveillance rules, and the opponents of the plan argue that the changes will harm privacy rights, suggesting that under the proposal “privacy, intimacy is under threat, people can be followed, watched over both in homes, and online.” (Poles Protest Plan for New Surveillance Law, PRESS TV (Jan. 23, 2016).)

Other Recent Legal Developments

Several other legal developments, taking place since the Law and Justice Party gained control of the government by winning in the October 2015 elections, have also been considered controversial by observers. (Yobbi, supra.) The proposed measures include, among others, the appointment of party supporters to five of the fifteen positions on the Constitutional Tribunal, the highest judicial body in Poland. (Trybunal Konstytucyjny, Constitutional Tribunal website (last visited Jan. 26, 2016); Poland Protests: Tens of Thousands March Again, BBC (Dec. 19, 2015).) The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Nuiznieks, who is planning a routine visit to Poland in February, expressed concern about the changes, stating in November 2015, “[a]mendments altering the composition of the Constitutional Court currently rushed through [the] Polish Parliament undermine the rule of law and should be withdrawn.” (Tomasz Bielecki & Agata Kondzinska, Poland: Venice Commission Representatives to Assess Constitutional Court Reforms, GAZETA WYBORCZA (Jan. 26, 2016), Open Source Center online subscription database, Doc. No. EUL2016012637164040.)

On December 30, 2015, the Law on Radiobroadcast and Television was amended, with provisions designed to expire on June 30, 2016.   (Ustawa z dnia 30 grudnia 2015 r. o zmianie ustawy o radiofonii i telewizji, DZIENNIK USTAW [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] (Jan. 7, 2016), Item 25.) The amended legislation allows the government to choose new heads of government television and radio stations, and to exert further control over board members and managers of media outlets. The media changes are necessary, according to the government, to promote Polish traditions and patriotic values. According to presidential aide Malgorzata Sadurska, the goal is to have a state media that is “impartial, objective and reliable.” (Poland Adopts Controversial Media-Control Law, VOA (updated Jan. 7, 2016); Donald Snyder, EU Scrambles as Protests Erupt in Poland over Government Media Takeover, FOX NEWS WORLD (Jan. 14, 2016); Scott Roxborough, EU Probing Poland over Controversial Media Law, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (Jan. 14, 2016).)

Reaction of the European Union

The European Commission, which is the executive body of the European Union, has expressed concern in general over recent developments in Poland, and Gunther Oettinger, EU Commissioner, has attacked the new media law as a threat to “common European values.” In response, Beata Szydlo, Poland’s Prime Minister, stated that democratic values have not been violated and that the Commission was dealing with “problems that don’t exist.” (Roxborough, supra.)

The Commission has announced that it will begin a dialogue with Poland under its Rule of Law Framework. The Commission noted that rule of law is “one of the fundamental values upon which the European Union is founded,” and that the Commission, together with the European Parliament, the Council, and Member States, is responsible “for guaranteeing the fundamental values of the Union.” (Press Release, Rule of Law in Poland: Commission Starts Dialogue, European Commission website (Jan. 13, 2016), EUROPA.)