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Poland and Hungary plan tighter new anti-terror laws

Jo Harper (with AFP)March 24, 2016

Poland has announced plans for tougher anti-terrorism laws two days after the carnage in Brussels. Plans would allow for prolonged detention of suspects, immediate expulsion of foreigners and the closing of borders.

Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban (R) and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Image: picture alliance/dpa

On Thursday, Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party announced that it would ask the parliament, where it holds a slim majority, to vote to give security agencies new tools to fight terrorism.

"We'll present this bill for government approval in early April, so that parliament may examine and adopt it in May," Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told reporters.

The laws would include powers for increased surveillance of foreigners, easier procedures for tapping mobile phones, and greater access to encrypted mobile data and the bank accounts of those suspected of links to terrorism.

It would also allow for the prolonged detention of individuals suspected of terrorism, the possibility to immediately expel foreigners and the closing of borders.

Polish officials also said they would work to stop anonymous use of prepaid cellphone cards and lift restrictions on the police's ability to search premises and make nighttime arrests. MPs may also reportedly be asked to change the constitution to extend the government's scope of action.

More of the same

The PiS government has come under attack from inside and outside Poland for politicizing the highest constitutional body, the media, the civil service and the military since coming to power in November 2015. The European Commission said in January it had begun an assessment of the rule of law in Poland, in response to the government's reforms.

The Venice Commission, an advisory body within the Council of Europe, said the organization was investigating a police surveillance law that was passed in December and allowed Polish police and secret services greater access to citizens' Internet activity. Many Polish citizens protested against the law, citing privacy concerns. The Venice Commission may issue its opinion on the law in June.

This move will raise similar issues and heighten fears that the PiS government is intent on remolding the state in a more authoritarian image.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said Warsaw would not take in its share of migrants under an EU plan. Thousands of migrants "come here only to improve their life conditions," and among them "there are also terrorists," she said.

No time like the present

Blaszczak said the goal was for the measures to be in place before a NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8 and 9. PiS has been pushing for a harder stance and beefed-up defenses against perceived Russian expansionism in the region. The announcement also came shortly before Thursday's meeting of EU interior and justice ministers in Brussels following Tuesday's attacks.

"We can see how real the threat is against regular people, who have become the target of terrorists. We have to draw conclusions from this," intelligence service coordinator Mariusz Kaminski said.

Meanwhile, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the PiS, on Thursday called on his political opponents to "dial down the political bickering until after the pope's visit," given what he called the "exceptional situation in the West and Russia's aggressive policies." World Youth Day will see Pope Francis's attendance from July 27 to 31 in the southern city of Krakow.

Taking the Hungarian road

Hungary also unveiled a raft of anti-terror measures on Thursday to make phone and Internet surveillance easier and allow bank accounts to be tracked in real time.

"The events in Paris and Brussels have settled the debate, the terrorism threat has grown," Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said.

Brussels in the aftermath of the March 22 attacks.
Brussels in the aftermath of the March 22 attacksImage: DW/K.Schuster

At present, an individual's Internet and phone use can only be accessed after a court order, and telecommunications providers can still refuse. Under the proposed new measures to go before parliament in April, a court order will still be necessary, but the provider will no longer be able to deny access.

Pinter said the package was agreed on by the cabinet Wednesday, and that details would be published in the coming days.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the Brussels attacks "should be considered as an attack on Hungary as well," adding that Hungary must take "all necessary steps" to protect itself.

The package also includes funding for extra manpower and new technical equipment for security and border control forces, as well as the formation of a counterterror institute to analyze terror attacks.

Hungary last year erected a razor-wire fence on its southern frontier and has said it is ready to extend the fence to the border with Romania. It also plans to increase anti-terrorism measures. The planned steps will need the approval of two-thirds of the Hungarian parliament; the ruling Fidesz party falls short of this hurdle and could look to far-right party Jobbik to support the legislation. The interior ministry said it would discuss the plans with the opposition. The justice ministry will prepare legislation on the planned measures by April, and the government will ask parliament to approve the draft laws in the shortest possible time.

Opposition parties in Hungary have to date resisted giving the government extra powers to fight terrorism, concerned that the government may exploit them for political reasons.