Poland’s Senate has approved a controversial amendment making it easier for the secret service and police to access Internet data, stoking concerns about the state of democracy in the EU member. The new measure will notably give law enforcement direct permanent access to a host of metadata regarding the online activity of Poles. The police will no longer have to ask ISPs for access each time. Thus, another domino in the struggle for privacy has fallen.
The torrent of right-wing rhetoric flowing across Europe has resulted in a wave of conservative political corrections, fuelled this time by that convenient, contemporary nemesis – terrorism. Poland is the latest country to join the growing slate of EU states embracing unprogressive political programs despite the fact that there have been no terrorist incidents there as yet. The prospective decline in personal privacy and freedoms have mobilized many Poles in opposition to the seismic shift, showing that not all are in agreement with the new measures.
More than 10,000 Poles took to the street to denounce the actions of the right-wing Law and Justice party, fearing that it is capitalizing on the rash of terrorist-related attacks and activities elsewhere in the world in general, and specifically, closer to home in Europe. They join the chorus of those unwilling to sacrifice their cherished freedoms and way of life because of a few isolated acts of violence. The clamor decrying the government’s measures is only one of many, manifesting growing concern on the Continent that political hay is being made by politicians to consolidate their grip on power at the expense of personal liberty. Nothing new here.
An unintended, but likewise convenient, accompanying antagonist in the right-wing power play is the migrant crisis. Not surprisingly then, freedom and privacy are being held hostage by both terrorists and migrants. To the extent that the two can be intertwined and intermingled, the better for nationalistic politicians like France’s Marine Le Pen, and parties such as Front National in France, and Golden Dawn in Greece. European nationalist parties are enjoying a worrying surge in support on the back of the continent’s migrant crisis, because of alleged links with terrorism (such as the attacks on women in Cologne.)
Even in countries as tiny and staid as Switzerland, the far-right have taken a whopping 30% of the vote. A similar result occurred in Austria’s recent election, where the far-right Freedom Party registered 31% of the ballots cast. Progressive Scandinavia isn’t exempt from the changes either. The Swedish Democrats surged to third place in elections in September 2014, from 6th in 2010.Some polls since August has put them in first place, and several more have put them in second (behind the centre-left governing party.) So could the demonstrations in Poland against the conservative’s latest pro-surveillance laws portend a message that enough is enough? That change is in the air? Or is it too little too late?
According to observers there, the Polish government’s laws are examples of overreach and overreaction. Jaroslaw Kurski, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, argues that,
“There’s no terrorism in Poland. It’s just a false pretext to control citizens, to control people, to reinforce their power.”
If that is the case, then the Polish government is no better than its nemesis to the east- Russia, and the despised Vladimir Putin. In either instance, personal freedom, privacy and liberty are under assault. Putin’s scapegoat is the threat of the West – the US and an encroaching Europe. In Poland, it is terrorism. Neither circumstance bodes well for freedom and privacy.
Since WWII, the resurgence of the far-right has been cyclical, abetted by economic stagnation, a perceived mistreatment by former adversaries, and the possible loss of land (if not face.) And in almost every scenario, personal freedoms have taken it on the chin. This is worrisome news, for the economy in Europe shows no sign of improving anytime soon, and the migrant crisis evinces no sign of abating.