Thousands protest against Poland's new surveillance law

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 23, 2016 8:45 AM

WARSAW (Reuters) - Thousands of Poles marched through Warsaw on Saturday to protests against their new conservative government's plan to increase its surveillance powers, which critics say will undermine privacy rights.

Since the Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in November, its moves to take more control of the judiciary and the media have divided Poland and raised alarm bells in the Europe Union, which has started investigating charges that Warsaw is undermining democratic principles.

Waving Polish and European Union flags, the protesters demanded that the Law and Justice party withdraw its planned changes to the surveillance law.

"You're supposed to listen, not listen in," read one of the banners. The new bill, which has not yet been signed into law, expands the government's access to digital data and loosens the legal framework of using surveillance in law enforcement.

The ruling party, which scored a landmark election victory in October, says it has to swiftly amend the bill to implement the constitutional court's ruling. It also cites a broad democratic mandate to overhaul the country.

But critics say the government is emulating Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in trying to impose its political agenda by undermining democratic checks and balances.

"Our privacy, intimacy is under threat, we can be followed, watched over both in our homes, and online," Mateusz Kijowski, one of the organizers, told the protesters. No estimates of the exact size of the demonstration were immediately available.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told EU lawmakers this week that her government had not breached European or Polish laws after it made changes to the top constitutional court and put public media under its direct control.

The probe could eventually lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights in the 28-nation bloc if the Commission decides that Warsaw has not observed the rule of law.

(Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)