Polish NGO to Obama: Mass Surveillance Is Not Freedom
On June 4, 2014, one day before the anniversary of the Snowden revelations, Poland celebrates 25 years since the fall of an authoritarian regime. On this occasion, President Obama is visiting Poland and meeting with many heads of states—including officials who were affected by the mass surveillance scandal carried out by the NSA. The United States and Poland have a long tradition of official visits between their leaders. These visits symbolize a close, allied relationship between the two countries and “help advance many political and economic issues.” Since October 2013, the Panoptykon Foundation, a Polish NGO, has tried to understand the relationship between the Polish and United States’ secret service organizations. Panoptykon believes that the Polish government, by accepting mass and pre-emptive surveillance, is reverting back to the much contested practices of the former, authoritarian regime—practices that triggered the revolution 25 years ago. Thus, the NGO has organized a user-generated campaign for June 4, urging people to welcome President Obama to Poland by vocalizing their thoughts on mass surveillance.
Panoptykon is encouraging activists, journalists, and others around the globe to tweet pictures of themselves holding a piece of paper that says "Surveillance Is Not Freedom. Say it on the 4th of June." These pictures should be shared online, tagged #ObamaPL and #25latwolnosci. The NGO will submit press releases to Polish media, and publish a couple of op-eds to accompany the campaign.
The president of Panoptykon Foundation, Katarzyna Szymielewicz, who is watching President Obama’s visit in Poland, says,
“It is rather difficult to celebrate the anniversary of first Polish free elections in the aftermath of the recent Snowden revelations—indicating that Poland cooperated with US intelligence and delivered vast amounts of telecommunication data (possibly about own citizens). How is it possible that until now Polish citizens haven’t heard a word of explanation from their democratically elected representatives with regard to Snowden’s allegations? We still don't know answers to basic questions: what was the purpose of Polish-US cooperation; who was the target; what sort of data was intercepted and why? If President Obama leaves Poland on the 4th of June without touching on these questions, it will be the failure of Polish democracy. Without accountability and transparency, democracy becomes a facade.”
Together with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Amnesty International Poland, the Panoptykon Foundation filed FOIA requests concerning Polish involvement in US mass surveillance programs and international cooperation between security services. The three organizations wanted to know, among other things: whether Polish intelligence agencies cooperated with their US counterparts; whether any transfers of personal data were executed; and whether Polish agencies had access to PRISM or other surveillance programs. Intelligence agencies and the Polish government refused to answer these questions.
So far, however, Polish organizations have not received specific answers to most of these questions (including information about cooperation between Polish and US intelligence agencies). Polish authorities apply evasions or outright refuse to give information. Therefore, Panoptykon is going to take their demand for information to the Polish courts.
In February of this year, Panoptykon asked selected questions about mass surveillance directly to President Obama, who also failed to answer them. It is much more disturbing, however, that Polish authorities don't seem to care enough about their citizens’ rights to raise any difficult issues during Barack Obama’s visit. Polish Prime Minister, after his first meeting with US president, made this very clear by saying that Polish-US relations are excellent and do not need to be discussed at all.
Join Panoptykon Foundation today in telling President Obama that Surveillance is Not Freedom.