Not only Pegasus

Organizations call on senators for systemic solutions to the lack of control over special services’ activities.

The problem of uncontrolled intelligence activities requires systemic solutions. Human rights organizations call on senators serving on the Extraordinary Committee on Pegasus not to stop at investigating the surveillance of senators Krzysztof Brejza, Ewa Wrzosek and Roman Giertych.

Not only Pegasus poses a problem. Every day, out of any control, special services collect data on hundreds of innocent people – ordinary citizens, but also activists, journalists and politicians. What we need are systemic solutions. The Senate should prepare their proposal,

they urge.

An extraordinary Senate’s committee will attempt to explain the phone surveillance of prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek, senator Krzysztof Brejza and attorney Roman Giertych. But the problem of uncontrolled surveillance affects hundreds of thousands of people who are invigilated by Polish services every year. Current laws do not protect citizens from abuse. To change this, we need to prepare an act. We expect senators to not just look for the culprit, but to ensure that such situations do not happen again in the future.

The call initiated by the Panoptykon Foundation was supported by leading organizations protecting human rights and freedoms in Poland: Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. It was also signed by: the Batory Foundation, the Akcja Demokracja Foundation, the Court Watch Polska Foundation, the Citizens Network Watchdog Poland and the National Federation of Polish NGOs.

The case of surveillance of prosecutor Wrzosek, senator Brejza and attorney Giertych should be investigated, but the commission should not rest there. Therefore, the organizations called for the preparation of systemic solutions: the creation of an institution to control the activities of the special services and granting citizens the right to information about being subjected to surveillance.

In Poland, the Police and 8 special services are entitled to conduct operational control. While such powers are necessary for them to perform their tasks, the use of such powers in an unlawful and uncontrolled manner is a threat to our civil society as a whole. 

And that is what is currently happening. Pegasus has been used for surveillance on journalists and activists in many countries around the world. Pegasus is just one of such tools – expensive and probably no longer available to Polish services. However, other methods of surveillance – such as wiretapping, collecting telecommunications data [e.g., phone records], or tracking the location of activists – are the order of the day. According to information gathered by Panoptykon for the campaign “Podsłuch jak się patrzy” (“Properly wired up”), 8-10 thousand wiretaps are placed in Poland every year (25 per day), and the police and other services collect 1.35 million phone records and pieces of location data every year. The demand of systemic control over the services’ activities was included in the recommendations of the expert group appointed by the Ombudsman, in the report entitled “Osiodłać Pegaza” (“Saddle the Pegasus”).

Content of the call

Warsaw, 16 January 2022

Speaker of the Senate Tomasz Grodzki

Marcin Bosacki, Chairman of the Senate’s Extraordinary Committee for investigating cases of illegal surveillance, their impact on the electoral process in the Republic of Poland and reforming special services

Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, Chairman of the Senate’s Legislation Committee

Aleksander Pociej, Chairman of the Senate’s Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Petitions Committee

Dear Sirs and Madams,

as organizations upholding democratic values and human rights, we believe that uncontrolled total surveillance through the Pegasus software violates the essence of the right to privacy and intimacy guaranteed by the Polish Constitution and international law, and the people who experience it become defenceless against the state apparatus.

However, the use of Pegasus against senator Krzysztof Brejza, prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek and attorney Roman Giertych is just the tip of the iceberg: thousands of people are eavesdropped every year. The Police and 8 other special services also collect massive amounts of telecommunications data, such as phone records and location details, on hundreds of thousands of people. Although there are individuals against whom those actions are justified, the scandal involving the use of Pegasus against a senator, prosecutor, and attorney provides ample evidence that Poland faces a systemic problem consisting in the lack of independent control over the activities of the Police and special services.

Systemic solutions are needed in Poland. Recommendations on what they should look like have been developed by a group of experts working with the Ombudsman (see the report entitled “Osiodłać Pegaza”). These recommendations are based on two demands: 

  • for the creation of an institution to control the services, and 
  • for granting citizens the right to know about being under surveillance in the past.

We do not deny that it is important to verify whether there were any irregularities in the use of the Pegasus software. However, we expect that it will not distract you from another, more important goal: to ensure that such scandals do not happen again. We expect you to go beyond looking for the guilty – instead you should consider this matter systemically and prevent similar abuses in the future by preparing a bill that would regulate the use of surveillance tools by the Polish services. This will be an important step to create a strong and democratic oversight of the Police and intelligence services in Poland.

  1. The Panoptykon Foundation
  2. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Akcja Demokracja
  5. The Stefan Batory Foundation
  6. The Court Watch Polska Foundation
  7. The Citizens Network Watchdog Poland
  8. The National Federation of Polish NGOs

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