As populist and oftentimes right-leaning political movements continue to sweep much of the Western world, many are reeling with the vast amounts of change happening within certain countries.
Countries that have long been considered to be relatively free and open, such as Poland, are starting to experience crackdowns on personal freedoms and censorship that citizens of the region have not had to deal with for many years.
These trends are alarming no matter how you look at it, whether you are concerned about privacy, freedom of speech, assembly, or even simply the ability to view and consume the content you want when you want to.
In recent years, Poland has undergone some very extensive legislative and regulatory changes, much of it under the guise of counter-terrorism. While this might be the main goal of these initiatives, the new rulings also pave the way for increased government online spying.
These new rulings extend far beyond online censorship and curtail even freedom of speech and assembly, but the barriers and blocks put in place in Poland have the potential to have a chilling effect on its citizens’ ability to obtain outside information, organize, and share news with the rest of the world using free Polish VPNs.
The new ruling party in Poland is extremely conservative and has taken the country in a very different direction in recent years, which has led to some concern about what precedent these actions will have for basic freedoms in other Western countries that have been seeing a similar trend in shifts to the right or more populist and nationalistic policies.
One of the biggest issues with the new surveillance and counter-terrorism legislation is how vague it is.
Under the umbrella of a poorly-defined crisis, the government in Warsaw has enacted sweeping and broad measures that allow them to crack down on freedom of assembly, it gives the government the ability to block certain websites and track people’s internet usage.
The regulations give the government sweeping power to shut down telecommunications systems, including phone lines and even the internet access, under these broadly-defined crisis conditions, leading many pro-free-speech groups to balk at this step towards punitive censorship and punishment.
These measures make even less sense when one considers that Poland has not dealt with an act of terrorism since 1939.
Much of Europe is leaning towards these types of measures in a seemingly fruitless attempt to combat terrorism and for many years, Poland was one of the few nations that did not actively filter or monitor the internet usage of their citizens.
In 2016, the new conservative government began to introduce filtering mechanisms in an attempt to block access to certain websites and applications. These measures were enacted by Parliament and did not even stand for a debate, which is alarming in itself.
Fears of even stricter monitoring and censorship were raised last year when the Financial Supervision Authority sought to obtain the ability to block certain websites or types of content.
The proposed legislation, which is working its way through various committees, would give this board the ability to block access to websites it deems as scams, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate for up to 48 hours before even taking their concerns to the office of an attorney for official approval.
This type of overarching and sweeping power would set a dramatic precedent for the ability of smaller subsets within the government to also begin to censor and enact prohibitive or punitive measures and restrict other domains of information sharing.
Sites or those who are on the receiving end of such sanctions do have the ability to contest the blockage, but this is a long process during which the Financial Supervision Authority would also be able to mount their own appeal.
Alarming news broke on July 17 that the Polish government is seeking to create a registry and to press local internet service providers to provide data about customers who are accessing restricted or banned content.
Not only are they seeking access to information about citizens who have successfully accessed banned sites, they are also looking to obtain information about those who simply tried to access a banned site, which will have an incredible effect that reaches far beyond the intended target of this new crackdown.
The government claims they are attempting to crackdown on ISPs that are not following proper protocols, but those concerned with liberty and freedom see this as just another way to access information about potential dissidents or those who may not like the actions of the new conservative government.
While for many years, Poland was one of the few places in Europe that did not follow the growing trend of internet censorship and surveillance, this is no longer the case.
Using anti-terrorism as the impetus for enacting restrictive measures against speech and access to certain types of information or applications, the conservative government has given themselves broad and wide-reaching powers, allowing them to track, monitor, block access, and potentially even build a database of citizens who even attempt to access content that they deem in some way inappropriate.