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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 28, 2009
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Bugging Scandal Sparks Big Brother Fears
October 28, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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After the still-unresolved gambling scandal, another controversy has grabbed the headlines, involving the tapping of journalists' phones by Poland's state security services. Concerns about the lack of oversight over surveillance operations carried out by these services have caused further headaches for the government and sparked calls for action from the opposition.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Oct. 21 called for urgent action to find a way to provide information about phone tapping by Poland's security service agencies to parliament and the public. Tusk asked the newly appointed justice minister, Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, and Jacek Cichocki, secretary of the College for Security Services at the Prime Minister's Office, to "prepare swiftly and urgently fast-track amendments" without waiting for legislation on the security services' operative and investigative activities that is making its way through parliament, said government spokesman Paweł Gra¶.

Tusk's decision follows a scandal over the reported tapping of journalists' phones by the Internal Security Agency (ABW). Information from this surveillance operation was reportedly used later by high-ranking ABW officers in their own private lawsuits.

The Rzeczpospolita daily reported that the ABW recorded conversations conducted by its journalist Cezary Gmyz and Bogdan Rymanowski, a presenter on the private television station TVN, from the phone of journalist Wojciech Sumliński and failed to destroy the tapped conversation records that had no connection with a case the ABW was investigating. The case involved the suspected leaking of a secret appendix to a report on the Military Information Services (WSI). This intelligence agency operated in 1991-2006 and was dissolved in an atmosphere of suspicion over possible illegal activity, including arms trafficking, by some of its officers. Sumliński was suspected in this case.

In addition, Rzeczpospolita reported that prosecutors illegally allowed access to materials from the investigation to a lawyer for Jacek M±ka, deputy head of the ABW, in connection with his lawsuit against the daily in a different case.

The Warsaw Appeals Prosecutor's Office, which is conducting the investigation, said the transcripts of the tapped conversations were not destroyed because they are connected with a criminal case, and that it had been legal to allow M±ka's lawyer access to some of the documents. The prosecutors added they had been interested exclusively in the content of the conversations rather than the people holding them.

The ABW said that it had not tapped the phones of Rymanowski or Gmyz and that the transcripts were evidence in a case dating to December 2007. The case concerns suspected corruption in the process of verifying WSI officers. In its statement, the ABW said it is important to distinguish between two types of tapping: tapping for investigation purposes and tapping for trial purposes. In the first case, the prosecutor selects the materials obtained through tapping and destroys those which have no connection with the investigation. In the second case, the prosecutor does not destroy the materials, but selects them from the point of view of their usefulness for the trial.

The explanations from the ABW have convinced neither the journalists nor politicians, especially not those from the opposition. Mariusz Błaszczak, spokesman for the Law and Justice (PiS) parliamentary group, said PiS would ask the parliamentary security services committee to deal with the tapping case.

Poland has nine security services which have the right to tap phones. The regulations require the head of a service to file a request for tapping with a prosecutor's office, which then sends it to court for approval. Telephone operators, including mobile operators, are required by law to enable phone tapping.

Opposition PiS and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) politicians say the number of phone tappings conducted by security services has increased significantly in recent years and may now involve several thousand people. Critics of the security services argue that, in contrast to many other European countries, Poland lacks transparent procedures for handling materials obtained through tapping and that transcripts of tapped conversations are often leaked to the media. A recent example of this practice is the gambling scandal: recordings of conversations between Zbigniew Chlebowski, then head of the Civic Platform (PO) parliamentary group, and his business friends, owners of casino chains, have been published by the press, triggering a scandal and a reshuffle of the Tusk government.
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