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European rights body slams Poland over new surveillance powers

A body of constitutional law experts has urged Warsaw to put its surveillance powers in "check." Lax oversight over metadata collection and wiretapping operations have put citizens at risk, the Venice Commission said.

The Council of Europe's advisory body on Friday urged Poland to introduce "additional checks to surveillance powers of police and other law enforcement agencies in Poland" after the EU member state amended its policing law earlier this year.

"Many states face veritable threats from terrorism and organized crime. Under the Europe Court of Human Rights, states have a margin of appreciation in deciding how to draw the balance between security and liberty," the COE said in a statement on the Venice Commission's recommendations.

However, safeguards in Poland's revised policing law "are still insufficient to prevent excessive use and unjustified interference with individual privacy," the COE added.

The Venice Commission, comprising constitutional law experts, highlighted Polish law enforcement agencies' greater access to citizens' internet activity and relaxed rules for wiretapping operations in the wake of the law's amendments.

It called for the creation of an independent oversight body to complement Poland's system of "judicial preauthorization of the 'classical' surveillance."

The commission added that agencies should limit metadata monitoring and be required to keep records to ensure "control of monitoring operations."

A Polish woman holds a sign that reads: Internet surveillance with a thumbs-down sign. Thousands of Poles have protested the government's controversial legislation.

A Polish woman holds a sign that reads: "Internet surveillance" with a thumbs-down sign. Thousands of Poles have protested the government's controversial legislation.

Democracy at stake?

While the Venice Commission's opinions are nonbinding, they do hold sway at the European Commission.

The EU's executive body had launched an inquiry earlier this year, after Poland's new right-wing government passed legislation that effectively paralyzed the country's constitutional court.

The European Commission said it was investigating whether the laws breached the EU's founding principles on the rule of law.

However, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) claimed it had adhered to Poland's legislative procedures for the changes to the Constitutional Tribunal.

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