by Anam Alpenia
Thousands of Poles have been marching through their country’s major cities, in protest of online surveillance laws proposed by the new right wing government.
Foreign Policy yesterday accused the Law and Justice Party, which swept to election victory last October, as having “given Polish nationalism a bad name.” Media outlets across Europe have denounced the new government as un-democratic, un-European and anti-Western.
The media has been brought under the aegis of the government, and courts have been stripped of their powers, in moves cleaving to those of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (some have even dubbed it Poland’s ‘Orbanization’).
Its latest move, however, has stepped over the line with Polish citizens.
A proposed law will allow the government to access any digital data, and for police to have greater controls over which online data they can access. That prompted over ten thousand to march through Warsaw, Krakow and other Polish cities over the weekend, holding placards warning of an “illiberal democracy”. A citizen group, the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, has sprung up in opposition of the government.
The E.U. has announced that it will investigate the law: Polish president Beata Szydlo has insisted that no domestic or international laws have been broken. The news comes amid an E.U. push towards restrictions on personal data transfers to the United States. It has already struck down Safe Harbor, a system used by businesses to transfer data.
The marches come amid a transitional moment for Poland’s tech community. After each government change there is a “six to twelve months craze and economy stagnation,” says Patryk Strzelewicz, a shareholder at Poznan-based Game Technologies SA. He adds that, because directors at tech-relevant offices like Poland’s National Center of Research and Development have also changed, it may take time for state projects to resume in full. “Now a lot of grants are suspended but I hope it’s just a matter of time,” he adds.
The law is “fuzzy,” says Artur Kurasinski, CEO at Warsaw video marketer MUSE, “and judges can interpret regulation pretty freely.” He adds that Poland’s digital economy should be ok, being part of the E.U. Schengen Zone, which has abolished passport and border control. “The majority of entrepreneurs are not afraid. They will emigrate as soon as the PiS government announces other rules like ‘Let’s make extra tax for Poland-registered e-commerce companies’ – which is happening right now.”
Poland has emerged as one of Europe’s biggest post-financial-crisis success stories. The continent’s sixth-largest economy, it has grown steadily since 2009 while those of countries around it have shrunk. Poland’s GDP has grown from $343 billion to $548 billion since 2006. High innovation has driven that growth, with dozens of high-value startups emerging in Warsaw and Poland.